One weekend immersed in the world of big-time professional fishing wasn’t enough for Orrington native Jonathan Carter, who in 2013 became the first Maine angler to qualify for the elite Bassmaster Classic.
In a conversation earlier this week, the 31-year-old Carter explained that finishing 17th in the Classic was instrumental in his decision to put his career as a first-grade teacher on hold and focus on becoming a top-level bass fisherman.
“Pretty much all of [this decision] is based on having competed at the Classic,” Carter said. “It was something I would have done eventually, but having won some money there at the Classic and having a pretty decent finish there gave me a little bit more confidence to just jump in and do it, and that little bit of financial backing as a starter to go on [helped].”
Carter won $12,900 for his efforts in the tourney, which he qualified for as an amateur by finishing well in the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation championship.
Carter said he made his decision as the school year wound down a year ago. He was teaching first grade in South Portland, and realized he’d come to a crossroad.
“I decided to fish the northern open tour for B.A.S.S. to see if I could qualify for the Elite series,” Carter said. “Because I made that decision, I had to leave teaching, just because it wasn’t fair to the kids [for me] to be gone all the time, and the schedules don’t coincide very well with the school year.”
B.A.S.S. is one of the organizations that stages professional bass-fishing tournaments. Top pros compete on the Elite tour, while they may also step down and fish large regional open tournaments. The Northern Open series consists of three tournaments that will be held in Tennessee, New York and Michigan.
Carter said a win at any of those Northern Opens would earn him entry into the Bassmaster Classic, which is viewed as the Super Bowl of the sport. A top-five seasonal finish in the points standings would allow him to transition to the Elite level.
Carter participated in the Northern Open tournaments last year, and he said he didn’t fare as well as he had hoped.
“I struggled a little bit last year,” Carter said. “I felt like I was around the fish to win every tournament I was in, or at least to do well, but it was kind of one of those ‘the fisherman lost the fish’ type of deals. It was my own fault.”
Carter said entering a Northern Open tournament costs $1,500, but the potential payday can be large. He said tourney winners receive a new boat worth $40,000, along with $6,000 in cash and a berth in the Classic.
Carter said he attended this year’s Classic, which was held in Alabama and recently featured in Sports Illustrated magazine. The experience was far different than the one he had last year as a competitor.
“It was brutal,” he said. “It was just eating me up, sitting there watching and knowing that in my mind I should have been there,” he said.
Carter said he’ll still fish some tournaments in Maine, though he wonders if the first five or six events, which are scheduled to start in late April, will be held due to icy lakes.
And he said he’s making his mental state a priority this year, especially in the larger tournaments.
“Last year, I think my biggest downfall was that after I had a bad tournament or practice or whatever, I kind of defeated myself mentally and never got back on that confidence track,” he said. “So what I’m working on this year is to keep that mental focus and keep going no matter what I think’s going wrong [or right].”
And while Carter says he loved teaching elementary students, he’s hoping that this gamble will pay off. In order to do that, he’s got to think of himself as an ex-teacher now.
“I don’t want to give myself that out or that safety net to go back to [teaching] or to consider going back to,” he said. “I want to do it until I make it.”