It’s not often an angler wins a Strike King Angler of the Year title in a Costa FLW Series division by chance, and while skill is what carried Jake Morris to his first Costa AOY title, chance definitely brought him to the opportunity.
At 41 years old, Morris has fished over 80 events with FLW, though most of them have been at the T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) level. The Mountain Division has been his mainstay and where he won the AOY title in 2010, after which he went on to win the Regional on Kentucky Lake in the fall the same year.
He’s fished a few Southeastern Division events in the Costa Series as well as a few FLW Tour Opens, but for the most part, Morris has been fishing around his home in McKee, Ky., and making a living doing construction. That is until the Costa FLW Series Championship location was announced last fall.
Living about an hour away from Lake Cumberland – site of the 2019 Costa FLW Series Championship taking place Oct. 31 – Nov. 2 – Morris knew this year would be his chance to qualify for the championship.
“I grew up about an hour from Lake Cumberland, and it’s where I learned to fish,” Morris says. “If I’m going fishing by the house, 90 percent of the time I’m going to Cumberland. It’s home to me.”
With an obvious love for the lake and a wealth of knowledge on the fishery, Morris then set his sights on a division he figured would give him a solid route to qualifying for Cumberland. Having experience on much of the Southeastern Division lakes, he signed up.
“Back in January, the Central Division wasn’t on my radar,” admits Morris. “I was focused on the Southeasterns with my whole game plan being to make it to Cumberland.
“I went down to Florida for the first event of the season (on Okeechobee) and completely bombed. It was the worst I had ever done down there (finishing 217th). I came back home with my tail between my legs. I was pretty bummed out and didn’t want to fish the rest of them because I didn’t think I could make the championship. Then, one of my friends thought I should look at fishing the Central Division. The schedule caught my eye more and more every day, and I finally thought that’d be the way to go.”
The rest is history, as Morris would kick off the Central Division season with a win on Kentucky Lake, back it up with a top 10 on Table Rock and solidify the AOY title with a respectable 24th-place showing on Lake of the Ozarks last week. Now, he can focus his efforts on what he’s dreamed about all season.
“It still hasn’t sunk in yet,” Morris says of winning the Strike King Angler of the Year title. “I don’t know how I did it. I’d rather be lucky than good any day, I guess. I tried as hard as I could and it worked out. I made the right decisions when I should, and I’ve been very, very fortunate. I’ll reflect on it once the Costa Championship is over with. Until then, 100 percent of my time is going towards that.”
For someone as ate up with fishing as Morris, you’d almost expect them to be born with a baitcaster in hand. Surprisingly, Morris was a late bloomer to the fishing game.
“I was probably 18 when I started fishing, but I was maybe 3 or 4 when my dad got me into racing motorcycles,” Morris admits. “I was actually planning on a career with that, but one injury after another changed that. It was probably a year or so after high school that I gave up racing and a couple of friends got me into fishing. And, actually, the first big lake I ever fished was Cumberland. That was over 20 years ago, and since then, I have either been working or fishing.”
Morris knows he’s fortunate to work for a company that fully supports his fishing. He gets time off to fish tournaments, and when he’s not fishing, he’s busting his butt at work. It’s a perfect harmony. And while he loves what he does, Morris isn’t one to shy away from the bigger picture – trying to become a fulltime professional angler.
“The goal right now is to keep going (up the professional ranks),” he says. “I wanted to make the Costa Championship, but I have my sights set higher than that. My main goal would be to fish the (FLW Pro Circuit) and I’d love to try, but with finances and stuff, it ain’t easy, but that’s the goal.”
Averaging a 10th-place finish throughout the season is impressive enough, but it’s even more notable when considering Morris only had experience on one of the three bodies of water the division fished this season. Kentucky Lake was the lone fishery he’s tackled before and it paid off with a win. From there, Table Rock and Lake of the Ozarks were totally new to him, yet a seventh-place and 24th-place finish, respectively, proved Morris is a quick study.
Here’s how each tournament shook out.
Kentucky Lake, April 4-6
Morris has spent years learning the ropes on Kentucky and Barkley from a very good friend of his, but with the recent explosion of Asian carp in the lake, Morris wasn’t totally sure what to expect to start the season.
“Kentucky Lake, to me, is I’m either a hero or a zero,” Morris explains. “I’ve fished it enough and won a BFL Regional there in 2010, but most of the time I’m either at the top or bottom.
“I kept hearing how tough the fishing was in practice, and I didn’t have a clue I was on the winning fish – well, really, the winning 100-yard stretch of bank.”
With the help of a 5- and 6-pounder on day one, Morris hauled 24 pounds, 10 ounces to the scale to take the lead. Things got tougher from there, as fishing pressure and post-frontal conditions would lead to three keepers worth 13-12 on day two and two fish for 5-12 on the final day.
Fishing in the stained water of Lake Barkley, Morris relied on an old staple – a Stan Sloan’s Zorro Baits Aggravator spinnerbait with a chartreuse skirt, Colorado and willow-leaf blades, and a white Zoom Fat Albert Grub trailer. Despite weighing just 10 bass over three days, the wire-to-wire win was exactly the start he needed to help boost his morale after his experience on the Big O just a few months prior.
“From the time I left that tournament until now, it still doesn’t feel real. The win helped for sure, and gave me a little more confidence.”
Table Rock, May 9-11
Having never been to Table Rock, Morris wasn’t sure what to expect, but after nearly making a run at a second win en route to a seventh-place finish, Morris was more than happy with the outcome.
“I’ve never been to Table Rock or talked to anybody about it; I just got down there the Saturday before the event with my dad and fished five days, daylight until dark, like I always do,” he says. “On Wednesday, I got as far up the James River as I was going and found three little pockets, and for an hour, I’ve never had as many big bites from that many big fish in my life. It was unreal.”
Morris kicked things off by leading the event with 17-4 on day one and backed it up with 15-3 on day two. The water would clear up on the final day, causing his bite to get tough and end his streak of leading all days of competition for the Central Division at five of the possible six. Not too shabby.
His main weapon of choice for the event was a Reaction Innovations Swamp Donkey, which he kept in his hand throughout the event. It would also keep him atop the AOY standings with one tournament remaining.
“I was happy with how things went, but I was still a little disappointed I didn’t win.”
Lake of the Ozarks, Oct. 10-12
Another Ozark lake and another lake Morris had zero prior experience with. Not exactly the position you want to be in with Angler of the Year on the line and a nine-point lead over second place (and roughly 40-something points ahead of a handful of Ozark hammers).
Still, Morris was up for the challenge.
“The whole summer, I worked and fished around home waiting for Lake of the Ozarks,” he says. “It was the same thing, where I had never been there and never talked to anyone about it, but I got there and practiced, daylight until dark, and never got on anything major. I thought, ‘Well, you did so good in the first two and now you’ll blow it.’
“I didn’t have a keeper in the boat at 1 o’clock the first day. I was pitching docks and caught three for almost 11 pounds and lost two that would have put me in with those guys on Saturday.”
His three fish worth 10-14 had him in 41st place with the AOY slipping through his fingers. On day two, he stuck with his strength and threw a frog around to wrangle a 13-4 limit, moving him up the leaderboard, and, more importantly, locking him in for his first Costa Series AOY.
“I’m tickled to death that I got a check and got the points. I’m walking on clouds.”
What else was at stake
The Strike King Angler of the Year wins $5,000. In addition, the top 40 pros in each Costa FLW Series division (if they fished all three events) qualify for the 2019 Costa FLW Series Championship. The top five pros in each division’s season standings qualify for the 2020 FLW Pro Circuit.
Here’s a look at the top 10 pros in the Central Division in 2019.
1. Jake Morris – McKee, Ky. – 721 points
2. Casey Scanlon – Lake Ozark, Mo. – 699
3. Jimmy Washam – Covington, Tenn. – 691
4. Steve Floyd – Leesburg, Ohio – 687
5. Jeremy Lawyer – Sarcoxie, Mo. – 673
6. Todd Castledine – Nacogdoches, Texas – 672
7. Lance Williams – Billings, Mo. – 667
8. Marcus Sykora – Osage Beach, Mo. – 667
9. Christopher Jones – Bokoshe, Okla. – 665
10. Dakota Ebare – Denham Springs, La. – 664