Q&A with Mark Daniels Jr: 'Fishing is More Than Just Being a Good Fisherman' - Major League Fishing

Q&A with Mark Daniels Jr: ‘Fishing is More Than Just Being a Good Fisherman’

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July 18, 2022 • Matt Naber • Bass Pro Tour

Being on or near a body of water puts Mark Daniels Jr. in a good mood, and those positive vibes explode when he has a rod in hand. But, there was no straight path from his childhood in the California Bay Area to his current position in the Bass Pro Tour. Getting here took decades of dedication, plus the support of his family and friends. 

Daniels chatted with MLF about how his enthusiasm for competition helps him stay on top of his game. Here’s what he had to say:

Tell me about recent shoal bass excursion on the Flint River in Georgia, that’s sort of a legendary fishery. 

MD: Yeah, it was an awesome fishery. I went down there with Dustin Connell and just hung out for a couple of days and hooked up with a guide named Flint Davis. I had heard about shoal bass, and it was a bucket list fish for me as one of the few bass I had yet to catch. I just wanted to catch a keeper to say I caught one and it was just phenomenal. I caught several quality fish over 4 pounds. 

You have a degree in Environmental Science and worked as an agricultural biologist for six years before winning the TBF National Championship and got into fishing full time. Do you get to use the knowledge from your ag days when fishing? 

MD: Not necessarily, but some of the things I learned in school like identifying aquatic vegetation are easy for me, and I have learned which ones bass prefer; but I’m not really using it. I was doing a lot of inspecting and certifications for commodities to travel, so a lot of that doesn’t apply to fishing. 

Alton Jones told us he’s growing a 500-pound pumpkin in a previous Q&A. Got any tips for him? 

MD: He needs to put some fish carcass around the root system. That’s old-school like the natives did it, and I do it to my personal garden all the time. When I’m out fishing, I don’t throw the carcasses back; I put them in my garden and it thrives. I got all kind of stuff growing – tomatoes, zucchinis, okra, collard greens and all sorts of peppers, blackberries, and blueberries.

Who do you usually travel with when on Tour? What are they like when off the water?

MD: I think everyone knows me, Jacob Wheeler, Dustin Connell and Adrian Avena travel together, and we do all kinds of stuff. We play a lot of golf and recently got into playing poker. That’s another thing, I’m not a gambler but I am competitive. We’ll play corn hole and basketball too. Those that follow us on YouTube, they’ll see it. There’s always some sort of competition going on during off days, I guarantee it. It never stops, we’re always doing something. We bet on cut weights, what’s going to win the round, all kinds of stuff – keeping it interesting and having fun. 

You recently surpassed $1 million in career earnings. How did it feel to reach that goal?

MD: It feels great, you couldn’t have told me nine years ago when I started doing this that I would make $1 million dollars by fishing. It was surreal, but when I saw guys reach it, that became a goal for me, and our last tournament was the one. That was really cool and a feather in my cap. I’m not big on celebrating things like that necessarily, but it definitely was a morale boost and now I’m looking at $2 million and want to keep going. 

How did you get into fishing and what’s your earliest fishing memory?

MD: I grew up in the Bay Area in California and my dad would take me out on the bay after work. I’d get home from school, and he’d get off work and we would go to the bay and fish for literally whatever bit. One of my earliest fishing memories is of fishing for crappie at Clear Lake when I was about 3 or 4 years old. We were using little crappie jigs and I hooked a bass and landed it, and I was like ‘this can’t be a crappie.’ The excitement of hooking that bass had me hooked immediately.

You always seem to be having a good time when on the water. What’s your favorite part about it?

MD: I’m always having a good time and try to stay positive. I thoroughly enjoy being on the water – saltwater, fresh water, river, lake, stream, pond or whatever. I have a connection with the water. As long as I’m on or around the water, I’m in a good mental setting – unless I’m losing 5-pounders in a tournament, of course. That’s a different story, haha.

During major competitions, how do you keep cool in stressful situations?

MD: When things aren’t going your way it’s hard to maintain a calm demeanor, but when you’re bent out of shape it derails what you’re doing. If you focus on the negative, and you’re hung up on what happened an hour ago, you could miss a new opportunity because you were still dwelling over that. I try to stay levelheaded so I don’t take myself out of the game, which you can easily do. 

Mark Daniels Jr. with a fish caught at Stage Four of the Bass Pro Tour. Photo by Josh Gassmann

We’re in the middle of a break between Bass Pro Tour competitions. What have you been up to lately?

MD: We went down to Florida for some offshore fishing and caught a big grouper. Aside from that, I’ve just been relaxing and spending time with the family. We’re always on the road and it’s go go go, but you need to sit back and enjoy some family time. 

It’s a tight race for Angler of the Year and you’re currently ranked 12th. What’s your game plan moving ahead? 

MD: I want two Top 10 finishes in the last two events, that would be ideal for me and that’s what I’m hoping happens. So, I am considering going up to Mille Lacs for some scouting after ICAST. I’ve been there one time before, but we don’t get up there much so I definitely want to do anything I can to improve my arsenal. I was there one time for the Elite Series in 2017 or 2018. I definitely need to brush up on my game, but it’s so far – an 18-hour drive, but it could mean the difference winning or not. 

Fishing is a sport where you have to keep learning if you want to continue to succeed. What have you learned recently?

MD: I feel like the older I get, the younger the sport gets. You have to stay on it; these younger college kids are tough and coming up. They’re not messing around, so I have to stay on top of my game and the electronics since that’s a huge part of what we do now. 

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

MD: My victory on Lake Oahe (2018 Elite Series). Making the pro ranks is difficult; and in the back of your mind you’re always questioning if you can compete with these legendary guys like Kevin (VanDam) and Skeet (Reese), the guys I grew up watching. So, to get that victory just answers all those questions you have and it’s a boost of confidence. Now I fish as a legitimate competitor to win – I am here to win. 

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

MD: The biggest struggle for me was always money. Getting sponsorships and learning to promote myself was hard. I didn’t have any experience on how to be a salesperson, someone who could sell products and speak about the products and maintain knowledge of those products. Sponsorships are hard to come by when you start talking about monetary supplements. It’s different when companies pay you, and I struggled with that in the beginning, but in time we learn and here we are. Fishing is more than just being a good fisherman like it was in years past, you’d do some articles here and there or be in magazines; but with social media it’s a different game and you need to be well-rounded and good on all fronts. My wife (Taneisha) was into social media before I was, and said she said I needed to get in on it – and five years later it was like dang, she was so right. 

Mark Daniels Jr. and his wife, Taneisha

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

MD: Before I was doing this, I was working in Ag. I’m passionate about it, but I don’t love it like I do bass fishing. This is my passion and what I love to do. Working in Ag with the farmers and growers was a cool gig.

When did you first know that you wanted to go pro? How did your family react to this career/life goal? 

MD: It was right after winning the TBF National Championship on Grand Lake on April 17, 2013. I knew I was going to fish fulltime and it was the opportunity I had waited for my whole life. Everyone was super supportive; I’ve always had a lot of support when it came to that. My mom, dad, and wife, they’ve all been in my corner. Having people pulling for you which makes it so much easier to focus on the water.

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

MD: Keeping on racking up the accolades, it’s all about winning. It’s so dang hard to win these, but my motivation is the competition. 

Where are you headed next?

MD: I have ICAST and then our next one for the Bass Pro Tour is on Cayuga Lake in August.

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

MD: It’s hard to be away from my kids and my wife. I’ve gotten accustomed to it, but you miss a lot of events like their basketball games and track meets. You never get that back and that’s very difficult, but it’s the sacrifice we all made in order to do well in this career choice. My daughter, Morgan, is 14 years old and my son, Mark Daniels III, is 19. They’re kinda grown, but it’s still difficult to be away from them.

Mark Daniel Jr. (far right) with his daughter, Morgan, and son Mark Daniels III

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? 

MD: Keep going no matter what anyone else tells you. 

What’s something you’re very good at that the fans would be surprised to learn?

MD: Ping pong, I’m pretty good at ping pong. Adrian Avena is better than me at it, but he also used to play college tennis. 

Is there anything else you want the fans to know?

MD: Check me out on my social media channels for behind-the-scenes stuff with my family and buddies. It’s Mark Daniels Jr. on all platforms. 

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