Jason Abram is many things: a dedicated husband, a loving father, a former athlete, a football coach, a professional bass angler. And you can now add Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit champion to the list after his win on Lake Martin.
With Abram, though, the last thing on the list doesn’t define him. In fact, it’s the first two descriptions that mean the most to him, which is maybe part of the reason it took 10 1/2 seasons as a pro at FLW’s highest level to win his first major tournament. Granted, 10-plus seasons of tour-level competition is only going to yield somewhere just south of 70 winners, excluding the championship events, and given how many anglers have fished the FLW Tour and the Pro Circuit over the last 10-plus years, you could argue that Abram is ahead of the curve when it comes to winning.
But the 42-year-old mechanical and electrical contractor and business owner (add those to the list, too) admits that it’s taken a long time to get on the right side of the curve when it comes to really competing in professional bass fishing tournaments. To understand why, you have to start at the beginning.
Catching the bug
Like many kids in east Tennessee, Abram grew up fishing. It’s almost a cliché in that part of the country. It’s implied. If you’re from anywhere within a couple hundred miles of Knoxville or Chattanooga, you’ve probably been exposed to the world of fishing in one way or another.
For Abram, that meant fishing with family members for whatever would bite – catfish, bream; it didn’t really matter.
But Abram was consumed with sports as a kid, and more importantly, he was consumed with competition. So much so that the world of tournament fishing wasn’t something he really delved into on account of all the games that required a ball of one shape or another.
Then, sometime during his junior high years, he went on a fishing trip with his friend and friend’s father to a 41-square-mile reservoir that spans parts of Georgia and South Carolina called Lake Russell.
“Every spring break from around seventh or eighth grade, we’d go to Lake Russell,” he explains. “I learned how to throw a Carolina rig on Lake Russell. I learned how to catch bass on Lake Russell.”
From that point on, Abram was enthusiastic about bass fishing. It wasn’t all he did – not by a longshot – but it became less of an interest and more of a hobby.
In college, Abram, who was playing running back and defensive back at Tusculum University, “tore up” his knee and needed surgery, effectively ending his season. At that time, he also had a friend who was fishing a club tournament on Cherokee Lake and needed a partner. Crutches and all, Abram decided to climb into that boat and one step closer to a professional fishing career.
The next step
“I’d never heard of club fishing; all that was new to me,” Abram explains. “We go to Cherokee Lake, and I remember this stuff like it was yesterday. He hands me a Bandit 200 Series crankbait – I still have that crankbait; I framed it – and we go down here and fish a little club tournament, and we win. And that was fun.”
Abram still wasn’t entirely consumed with tournament fishing, but he was nearing that point. And like so many others who catch the bass fishing bug, he often read bass fishing magazines, one of which advertised an FLW tournament and an opportunity that didn’t require a ton of experience or even ownership of a boat.
“It says: Fish with the pros,” he recounts, word for word. “Lake Murray, S.C., FLW.”
For his birthday, Abram’s father, Dan, bought his son entry into his first FLW event as a co-angler at that 1999 FLW Tour event, a tournament in which Abram cashed a $450 check.
“I drew a guy named Eric Holt on day one, and we were fishing brush piles, like, 35 feet deep,” he recalls. “I understood that. Fish, wintertime, they’re supposed to be deep. It’s cold.
“I ended up catching one throwing a football jig – something I never did before. He gave me one to throw. I was relatively new to fishing, especially tournament fishing.”
What didn’t make sense to Abram, though, was what happened on day two. Nor did he understand – until years later – who it was that would be teaching him a valuable fishing lesson the following day.
“On day two, I had no idea the caliber of guy I drew,” Abram explains. “I drew a guy named George Cochran on day two. I would love to fish with George Cochran today. I understand what Gorge Cochran has meant to this sport and what he is today. I didn’t understand the caliber of fisherman I was in the boat with.
“He takes us way up the river, and we’re fishing 2 feet of water, and I’m thinking, ‘This guy doesn’t know what he’s doing,’ and he put on a clinic in 2 feet of water.”
From that point forward, by Abram’s own admission, he was hooked.
Bass fishing still consuming him – and with an honest-to-God paycheck in the bank – Abram decided to enter another FLW Tour event the following season in 2000, this time on the Mississippi River.
“One of the guys my second year I drew was Nick Gainey,” he says. “Nick is one of those guys who is a genuinely nice guy. I drew Nick on day one, and that was the tournament that everybody was running like three hours one way. Nick told me that morning that there’s a little bitty pocket we can get in, and there’s three rock piles. When we pulled in there, just pick a rock pile, but that’s all we’re going to fish all day.
“That blew my mind. I didn’t know what was going on. I ended up catching a limit on a Bandit crankbait. I didn’t know any better. The same Bandit crankbait I won my first tournament on.”
Gainey’s influence on Abram’s life (more on that later) is akin to the influence his day two boater has had on the lives of just about every serious tournament bass angler.
“On day two, I drew Rick Clunn,” he says. “In one tournament I draw George Cochran, and then I draw Rick Clunn.
“I get in the boat, and I got three spinning rods and two baitcasters, and he says, ‘Take them three spinning rods and put them back in your truck. You don’t need them.’”
Clunn proceeded to throw a spinnerbait all day – one with blades bigger than anything Abram had ever seen – and even gave Abram one to use late in the day.
By the time Abram had weighed in, he had a 15th-place finish and a $1,200 check to show for it.
A second father
Gainey, who began his FLW pro career in 1999, still fishes the Pro Circuit to this day, and while he’s more of a peer of Abram’s by definition now, he’s still what Abram considers a father figure.
“Nick’s become like a second dad to me,” Abram admits. “I think the world of him. He’s got to see me develop to be the angler I am. That journey has been tremendous. Me and him talk almost daily.”
That relationship began with Abram’s second FLW tournament of his career and continued with Gainey inviting Abram to be his practice partner. In the beginning, Abram says he didn’t even know what practicing for a bass fishing tournament was. But from that day forward, the two have traveled together for every single event.
And like any father figure, Gainey couldn’t be any prouder of Abram for earning his first tour-level victory, to say nothing of how proud he is of Abram as a human being.
“I’m tickled to death for him,” Gainey gushes. “It’s awesome. It’s indescribable. Some guys go their whole career and don’t win one.”
From one father to another, Gainey also recognizes that Abram is more than just a professional angler.
“He’s a good kid,” adds Gainey. “His boy and girl are the pride of his life.”
The family man
Like many pros, Abram isn’t just a full-time fisherman. With his brother, Steven, he runs a mechanical and electrical contracting business his father started in 1977. Between tournaments, when a lot of other pros are pre-fishing for their next derbies, Jason is back home in Piney Flatts, Tenn., helping to provide for his family with his wife, Abigail.
He’s also coaching youth football. And he’s being a husband and a dad. His two children, Isaac (7) and Isabella (13), are his pride and joy.
Isabella has taken up horse-riding and hasn’t taken after her father’s love of fishing, but Isaac is getting to that point.
“He understands the hard work,” Jason says of his son. “He watches me looking at Google Earth and watching videos and making notes. Hopefully when he gets older, he’ll understand a lot more than I did and maybe give him a jumpstart – if he chooses. If he doesn’t choose it, that’s OK, too.
“I don’t care what they choose to do as long as they prepare for it and give their max effort.”
Those are the words of a loving and understanding father, which Gainey knows all about.
“He’s very close to his two kids, more so than a normal 42-year-old,” Gainey says. “His two kids are his world. When we’re off somewhere and he has time to get home, he goes home.”
That’s not to say Abigail doesn’t understand the rigors of life as a professional angler – long weeks on the road away from home, prime among them. In fact, she’s been there from the very beginning, and she’s seen it firsthand.
“She’s seen this whole journey,” Jason says. “She came with me to the tournament at the Mississippi River [in 2000]. When we went to the Mississippi, I still have pictures of her helping me rig rods. She’s been along for this whole journey. She’s seen everything that’s transpired.”
Putting it all together
Abram is a family man first. Plain and simple. For him to even have fished full tour-level seasons for more than 10 years is a testament to his dedication, hard work and competitive spirit.
And to get a win is a testament to how much Abram has taken all that to heart, even after a relatively late start in the tournament fishing world.
MLF Bass Pro Tour pro and fellow east Tennessean Ott DeFoe has spent a lot of time around Abram. They’ve known of each other since DeFoe began fishing tournaments in the area, but they’ve become better friends in the last few years. In fact, DeFoe earned his last Bassmaster Open win (in 2018) out of one of Abram’s boats.
DeFoe has watched Abram find some success and battle with some struggles over the years, but he’s sure his friend is at a point where momentum and consistency and determination are all colliding and creating a recipe for sustained success.
“As an angler, when you start traveling and stuff, there’s a learning curve, and I think you’re really starting to see him get on the front edge of that learning curve,” DeFoe explains. “He’s coming into his own as an angler. He’s trusting his instincts more and doing the things you’ve got to do to be successful and consistent and win an event like that [Martin]. That’s certainly what you’re starting to see.
“As a person, he’s just an outstanding individual. He’s always a guy to help out any way he can regardless of who that is; he’s always there willing to help. He’s a great family man and always doing anything he can for anybody else who needs it.”
Gainey’s been around Abram enough to see much of the same.
“He’s a good fisherman,” Gainey says. “There’s something about people from east Tennessee. I think it’s in their blood. They can figure out stuff.”
Gainey may be referring to Abram’s ability to figure things out on the water, tournament to tournament, but it’s a more prescient statement than he probably realizes.
Abram has figured out how to win.
Building on momentum
As anyone who has played sports can attest, momentum is a very real thing. Success begets success, and just breaking through that barrier – knowing what it takes and being able to replicate the process – happens so often in the sport of bass fishing.
And it helps when just cashing a check isn’t the primary focus. When you have $100,000 in the bank from one tournament, it’s easy to shift your attention to winning again, and again, and again.
Winning also fosters confidence.
“Momentum is huge,” Abram admits. “Winning this tournament is huge for me. I always wanted that … I ain’t going to call it validation, but it sort of is. I’m truly a bass professional. I’m as good as some of these guys – at least I feel that way now. I’ve always struggled with, ‘man, am I really good enough to be competing with them?’ Now, winning one, there’s a lot of guys that’s won one, but still, that number’s quite low for how many bass fishermen there are in this country.
“It’s really satisfying that I finally broke that barrier, and I’m in a groove now. There will probably be times where now I want to win another one. That changes my mentality. That was the dream is to win one of these. Now the dream is to win two. Bass fishermen are greedy. When we’re on the water and we catch one, we want to catch two.”
For now, Abram is just content with earning his first win and the paycheck that comes with it. When the time comes to start thinking about winning another one, he’ll do just that. It’s the competitive spirit that burns in every serious tournament angler.
That time will come, but right now, he’ll go back to work with his father and his brother. He’ll go back home to spend time with his wife and his two children. He’ll keep being the family man he is, first and foremost, all the while knowing he’s good enough to chase another win when the time comes.