Aug. 5—It's March 15 on Florida's Harris Chain of Lakes, and pro basser Jacob Wall is having an unforgettable day.
He's way down on the tournament's leader board with barely 10 minutes of fishing to go. While the South Medford High School grad is casting for largemouth bass, he's really after points.
Getting one slightly larger largemouth won't mean anything in that's day's standings, but a couple more ounces in his cache could make the difference in season-ending point totals down the line.
"Every ounce counts," Wall says. "They're the deciding factor at the end of the year."
Wall then caught a 2 1/2-pound largemouth, swapping it out for one a pound smaller in his tournament catch. Good for just 36th in the tournament that day, but the seven points he garnered in that moment catapulted Jacksonville's favorite fishing son into the big time.
Those precious points launched Wall into 10th place in the Pro Circuit, earning him the final qualifying spot in next year's Major League Fishing's Bass Pro Tour.
Come next season, he'll be fishing alongside legends like Kevin VanDam and others while vying for weekly $100,000 paychecks in the most elite bass league on the planet.
Wall remembers that day in Florida as a reminder of how grinding through every catchable moment to garner a point here or there in the standings created that pinch-me moment in the 27-year-old's romantic career.
"That's kind of how it works," Wall says. "I focused on trying to turn those not-so-good days into good days. You're fishing for points, and in the end every point matters. That last fish in that tournament mattered."
Wall is Southern Oregon's first pro bass fishermen on a circuit dominated by another Southerners of another type.
Since turning pro in 2018, he's earned close to $200,000 in prize money through 48 tournaments, winning two and garnering 11 top-10 placements, according to MLF records.
But sneaking into next year's top-drawer circuit could slingshot Wall into personal and potentially financial stardom.
The MLF sports just 80 pro anglers paying $5,000 for each tournament, with last place paying $3,700. That's a far cry from his initial year, during which Wall earned less than the checks he cashed.
The MLF tournaments are all catch-and-release, with every fish weighing over 2 pounds going toward that angler's daily catch regardless of how many fish he or she uses to get there.
The tournaments also are carried on The Outdoor Channel, which will put Wall's face in front of more viewers and can't help but add to his growing circle of sponsors.
He'll be competing against 79 other anglers each week, half of what he used to in the minor leagues. But Wall thinks he's earned his bones and is ready for the spotlight.
"I think I'm a better angler now than when I started," Wall says. "A few years ago, I don't think I was able to say that."
Hitting the top echelon of bass angling won't leave Wall with a deer-in-the-headlights look, he says.
"I don't really get star-struck over who I'm fishing against any more," Wall says while casting on Ontario's Lake Champlain while prepping for his final tourney of this season on The St. Lawrence River in Ontario.
"I'm just focused on going out, catching fish and earning points," Wall says.
And the road to the top of the bass-fishing world is a lot like getting to Carnegie Hall: Practice. Practice. Practice.
Even as a 12-year-old bass-fishing prodigy practicing for kid-casting contests, Wall knew all those practice casts on his family's Jacksonville driveway would one day pay off.
For hours after school, Wall would practice pitching or flipping jigs onto plastic targets stapled to pieces of plywood, emulating casts he'd seen on televised bass tournaments and believing that one day he'd be that guy.
That practice earned a trip to the finals of the national Bassmaster CastingKids competition in 2007, then he returned the following year and won it all.
He initially competed in local tournaments through the Crater Bass Club and later St. Mary's School. In 2011, he and former partner Colby Pearson won the first Oregon high school championship and ended up second in the national high-school bass championships.
From there Wall matriculated to University of Oregon, where he fished for the school in its club-sports program. His U of O team won two Western division titles and qualified to fish the nationals all four years he was on the team.
Wall turned pro full-time in 2018, moving from Southern Oregon's Salmon Nation territory to Alabama, where he still resides.
Wall says he's had tremendous support from his parents, Jocie and Steve Wall. His dad has regularly traveled the bass circuit with Jacob, who says he'll never forgot those days casting in the driveway and dreaming about hitting the big time.
"I'm still a good caster," Wall laughs. "That's got to help a little bit, right?"
Mark Freeman covers the outdoors for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4470 or by email at email@example.com.