Story By: Oliver Ngy

Photos By: Nick Kelley

A few years ago, I was in Austin having lunch on Lake Travis with Joe and Jake – my guys at YETI. I had this idea I wanted to bounce off them: I want to live out a lifelong dream of competing professionally. I just didn’t know if anyone would want to see me at that level.

It used to be that the only way anyone could bass fish for a living outside of being a guide was competing as a pro. And it’s not easy to get into the sport. Bass fishing is pay-to-play, meaning you’ve got to have assets and money to compete. Nobody’s really begging for up-and-coming fishermen and lacing them with endorsements, covering entry fees, and buying them boats and trucks and all the equipment. And they definitely weren’t plucking you out of the hood and giving you a D1 scholarship. (Although, the crazy thing is that’s happening now, but not when I was in college).

I started fishing over 20 years ago as a kid from humble beginnings in Los Angeles. My first fish was a bullhead catfish. I jumped to pan fishing, Redear sunfish, and bluegill — that real entry-level style of fishing — then graduated to trout fishing. I remember seeing these guys walking up and down the bank at my local lake, and they had a different swag and mannerism about them. Their angling style was different too, much more active. I asked my friend, “Dude, what are those guys fishing for?” And he said, “Oh, those guys are bass fishing.” I’d see them coming by in their super glittery bass boats (so much glitter back then) … they were just different, and that resonated with me. I was instantly captivated.

Big Bass Dreams

I immersed myself in mid-90’s bass fishing culture: TNN Outdoors TV shows, In-Fisherman & Bassmaster Magazine, all of that.  It didn’t take long to notice how I’m literally so far removed from Jasper, Alabama; Charlotte, North Carolina; the St. Lawrence River – places repeatedly shown in the magazines and TV content. There was nothing on the West Coast. And no one who looked like me.

If you could go back to the last three or four decades of bass fishing culture and were only able to digest the content that was produced, you’d think bass fishing was only in the Mid-South to South, sometimes on the East Coast of the United States. An American-only fishing phenomenon. Not to mention all those stereotypes coming into play. I fit almost none of those boxes. But what I didn’t know at the time was that the West Coast actually always had a very heavy influence on the national scene. We just don’t have the numbers of people, and we don’t have the number of lakes and the ease of access that the rest of the country does.

But while West Coast bass anglers tend to be underrepresented numbers-wise, we are actually very well represented in the top ranks of the pro circuit. In fact, some northern California lakes are considered big bass meccas. In my youth, throwing big swimbaits was kind of a California thing. Now, as a fishing technique, using big bait is a terrible way to catch a fish. But it’s an amazing way to catch THE fish. That’s where I found my niche.

Big Bass Dreams

I figured that a big fish is going to want a big meal. I don’t care what the species is, I don’t care where they live, I don’t care what the locals think. So I threw big swimbaits in Texas and in Florida, and it worked. I shifted gears and started targeting the biggest bass I could find and documenting it, and that’s how Big Bass Dreams as a brand and as a movement started. It was me trying to document catching these really obscene and, what to most people would be, once-in-a-lifetime fish. But I was learning how to replicate it over and over again and sharing it through a DVD format, back in the day when people used to buy DVDs.

If there’s one thing that anglers can always relate to, it’s big fish. With that as the common denominator for my content, I’ve been able to build a diverse community over the years. They might connect to me because they see me playing basketball, or they see that I’m from an urban setting, or that I’m rocking J’s all the time, the music choices that I use, or maybe the fact that I’m a foodie. But there’s definitely a large part of my audience who sees someone they can relate to, which is something that was missing for me when I was getting started.

Most people would think that these aspirations to compete in the pro circuit are absurd. After all, these guys do this all year. It’s their career – they’re legends and hotshots. I’m up against the best of bass fishing, as well as all the up-and-coming superstars who are trying to make it to the next level, plus all the local guys who know these lakes like the back of their hands. Experience with these fisheries plays a huge part in your success. For me as an out-of-towner coming in for competitions, having to break down these monster bodies of water in less than a week is a real challenge and disadvantage.

Big Bass Dreams

The pro circuit is also a grueling lifestyle and schedule. With these tournaments, you’re out on the water for 10 hours a day in the 90º+ heat and humidity, with the goal of accumulating points and collecting checks all season long. It’s the avenue for reaching the highest level of competition in our sport. But I don’t want all my work to amount to solely competing in the pro circuit and fishing on other people’s schedules. I want to leverage my position to be able to show up and compete for fun. And I want to win. Not a spot in the top forty, or even top 10. I want to win. And I think I’ve got a shot: I know my fishing advantage is that I come in with a totally different perspective, and my whole season and career isn’t riding on it. Plus, tournaments are won by ounces. Catching bigger than average fish every time (despite fewer catches) can amount to a win.

Can these tournaments be my opportunity to live my dream of competing for fun? Aiming high and dreaming big like this has gotten me to this point. Play for the stars, land on the moon, right?