Q&A with Alton Jones: 'I Feel That God Called Me to Be in This Sport' - Major League Fishing

Q&A with Alton Jones: ‘I Feel That God Called Me to Be in This Sport’

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July 12, 2022 • Matt Naber • Bass Pro Tour

Dr. Wendell and Fredna Jones thought 7-year-old Alton was just going through a phase when he said he wanted to be a professional angler. They had no idea that they’d find themselves in the Oval Office after he’d won a major tournament in 2008 or that he was starting a legacy of pro-fishing when Alton Jr. joined his dad’s ranks a few years after that. Now 32 years into his career as a pro angler, Alton Jones is a powerhouse in competitive bass fishing, currently ranked seventh in the 2022 Bally Bet Angler of the Year standings. 

Alton Jones chatted with MLF about how his career, passions, and beliefs are all connected. Here’s what he had to say:

You have a rare six-week break between tournaments. What have you been up to lately?

AJ: I pre-fished Mille Lacs for three days to prepare for Stage Seven and had wanted to spend more time scouting up there. I’m in love with that place, it’ll be a fun tournament but I’m apprehensive about the weather there since Stage Seven is in mid-September that far north (Onamia, Minnesota). I’m not saying it’ll snow, but it could happen. We started the season super cold and there’s a chance we could end it the same way. 

What else have you been doing, unrelated to fishing?

AJ: I’m trying to grow a 500-pound pumpkin. It’s putting on 5 pounds a day now and is up to 75 pounds. It’ll be 100 pounds in about 10 days. It’s a special genetic variety of pumpkin that gets big, but I have to cut all the other pumpkins off the vine so all the nutrients go to this one. This is my first experience with that, and it takes a lot of effort to get the soil prepared and have things right to give this thing a chance. Now it’s in God’s hands and I just water and fertilize it. I planted the vine in April, so it’s taken a while.

Alton Jones and the pumpkin he’s raising with the goal of reaching 500 pounds. It currently weighs 75 pounds.

Why are you growing a 500-pound pumpkin?

AJ: I was looking for YouTube videos on how to improve my tomatoes when I saw a video of a giant pumpkin; and no pun intended, I was like “this guy is out of his gourd.” There’s a lot of steps involved in getting these prepared and done right. Not too long after that, I was reading in my Bible about the parable of the sower from the Book of Matthew where the seed that fell on good soil produced 100-fold. So, I decided to try it and have that same mentality on my own heart – that it’ll be prepared to receive God’s word, and I wanted that in my life. Now I can see it in my life, my walk with Jesus Christ is closer than ever and my relationship with my wife is better than ever, too. I’m using the exercise as a way to remind me to cultivate my own heart for Jesus Christ, but it’s also really fun and I’ve had a great benefit from it whether it keeps growing, or not. 

What’s your favorite Bible verse?

AJ: I have a ton of favorites, but one of them off the top of my head is Acts 4:12. Basically, it says there’s salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. I think it sums up as Jesus said “I am the way, I am the truth and I am the life,” and that’s the message we all need for Jesus to forgive our sins.  

At what point did you realize this season is going well for you?

AJ: Probably at Stage One. Unexpected to myself, I finished second there even though it’s a fishery I’d never been to. I just showed up and did really well. This is a hard question to answer though, since I look at every tournament through the season as its own deal. Everyone wants to qualify for REDCREST or get Angler of the Year, but I approach it one event at a time. 

Out of all your fishing accomplishments, what are you most proud of?

AJ: There’s three things that stand out to me; winning the Bassmaster Classic in 2008 and Heavy Hitters in 2021 are two of them. Something else I would point to is that it’s a real blessing that I am able to compete professionally after 32 seasons and am still going. Fishing has always been one of my biggest passions and it’s a dream come true. I like to say I have to pinch myself twice a week, and I’ve been doing that for 32 years now and I still love it.  

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in professional fishing and how did you overcome it?

AJ: One challenge was after experiencing decades of success in the sport, my weight got too high and I had to re-train my eating habits and lose some weight. It’s a whole other game we play on Major League Fishing, and it takes more energy and effort, so it’s harder for an old guy. I will be 59 years old next week (July 13) and I have to pay attention to keeping myself in good health so that I can go out and put in long hours of practice, stand for hours and compete favorably. 

I think part of my good season is because of it, I’ve been getting healthier for the last several years. We play a completely different game in MLF, and learning to play that as opposed to the five-fish game – I’m getting better at that. Us old dogs are set in our ways, but in this career, you can never quit learning. I’ve always specialized in throwing soft plastics and jigs, and visible targets in shallow water, but you can’t just do that in MLF. You have to be universal and change, or SCORETRACKER® will run you off and leave you behind. It’s made me a better fisherman and changed how I approach it. I’m looking to expand my strengths to intercept the fish. 

What kind of diet have you been on?

AJ: It’s a program called “intermittent fasting.” There are 100 different ways to do it and it’s re-training my eating habits. I love food, but this lets me eat what I want within a confined time frame and a little less of it. I never felt like I was giving anything up, but was re-training the way I was eating and it’s been a big help to me. I still need to drop 10 pounds, but in general, I’m in good health. My rule of thumb now is “if you have to hold your breath to tie your shoes, then you need to drop some pounds.” 

If you weren’t a pro angler, what would you be?

AJ: I might be a missionary or something in ministry; that’s something I have a heart for. Another thing would be an entrepreneur of some kind. I love being in business for myself.

When did you first know that this was what you wanted to do? How did your parents react to this career/life goal?

AJ: I was a kid, probably 7 years old, when my grandfather got me a subscription to a fishing magazine and I read about guys competing in tournaments and winning money and I thought that would be cool. This is the culmination of a lifelong dream. Most people want to go and go on the weekends, but I get to go fishing and it’s a great blessing. 

I think at first I made no bones about it from the time I was little, and my parents probably felt it was a phase like wanting to be an astronaut or Olympic skier. But when I dropped out of Baylor (University) my senior year of college so I could concentrate on fishing, that’s when it hit home for them – and they’d been paying for my education.

They’ve been my biggest fans and supporters and loved me through every inch of the way and I’ve been the same way with my children. Not unlike pro baseball or football, the odds of making it are minute and compared to the number of fishermen out there, you probably won’t make it. 

After I won the Bassmaster Classic in 2008, President Bush invited me to bring the family to meet with him in the Oval Office and I got to take my parents on that trip with me. I remember coming in with my parents and my dad looked at my mom when we walked into the Oval Office and said jokingly said to her “this fishing thing might work out after all.” It was a fun moment, he didn’t know I heard him make a joke to her. 

The Jones family met with President George Bush after Alton won the Bassmaster Classic in 2008.

Competitive fishing isn’t easy – so what drew you to it and what motivates you to keep going?

AJ: I feel that God called me to be in this sport. There are other things you can do in life to make more money; you won’t get rich as a fisherman, but I feel I am where I am called to be as a pro fisherman. It’s something I am passionate about, but God puts that fire in our hearts and different people are passionate about different things.  

What’s it like competing alongside your son, Alton Jr.?

AJ: Oh, it’s unbelievable as a dad. I don’t know if it’s as special for him as it is for me. It’s given us quality time together in this stage of our lives since we travel together and stay in the same rentals together. He wants to beat me, and I want to beat him; but if I can’t win, I hope he does. We also cheer for each other. This year, right now, for the first time in a few years he is behind me on the (AOY) standings. Normally, it’s me looking up at him in the standings, but we’re both having really good seasons right now. 

Where are you headed next?

AJ: Cayuga Lake for Stage Six in August. Until then, I’ll do some fishing at home, but it’s 105 degrees every day and that’s too hot. I get out one day a week right now.  

What do you miss most about home when you’re on the road?

AJ: Just being at home. My wife, Jimmye Sue, travels with me and that’s a great blessing. But, I probably miss my dogs the most. We have four yellow labs.

Alton Jones pictured at home with a couple of his dogs.