If you are in the Bass Tournament scene in the state of Florida, you have heard of Jessey Rudolph. He is a charged, hard-working, and all around good dude that lets his fishing speak for itself.
He fishes every chance he gets, from small local derbies and regional events to being out on the water with buddies on the weekend. Time on the water is what helps set him apart from other anglers. We could go on about his master game plans and quick decision making ability on the water, but we would be missing the major part of what makes his situation unique.
He is—in larger events—fishing out of the back of the boat as a Co-Angler. This is an interesting position to be in from a tournament angler’s perspective. Not only do you need to be prepared for most anything, you are really not sure what you will be fishing until you get there and you cannot bring a boatload of tackle with you. Sounds like fun? It is, if you like a good challenge fishing in the moment and keeping your emotions from getting the best of you. Often, that’s easier said than done.
In the tournament game, you can learn an incredible amount about fishing and likewise, about yourself from the back of the boat. These lessons help you transition from a successful co-angler to a successful angler, once you choose to make the leap to the front of the boat.
Many believe Jessey is doing it “The Right Way”. If you look back into Bassmaster archives you will find tournament results with some of the biggest names in Professional fishing today, just starting out and being incredible co-anglers. It is a walk before you can run type philosophy. Now, granted anyone with a wad of cash can go buy a new boat, pay entry fees, and show up. Although professional fishing has a very high fail rate, guys who do not pay their dues by working their way up through the ranks have a considerably higher fail rate.
Moving on to his success, Jessey has been fishing in the Gator Division for the past three years and has won an event in each of the three. In 2014 he went out and won an event in his first season and earned checks in half of the events he fished. I think most guys would be thrilled to take that in their first season out. In 2015 he achieved a win in another event with checks in 3 out of 5 events. Bringing his total earnings to over $7,000 in 10 events over only two seasons. In 2016, Jessey was hungry for another event and wanted that regional title as well as the trip to the BFL All-American, which had eluded him the past two years.
In the 2016 opener, Jessey earned a check and did so in just the second event of the year. He was surely off to a good start. But then enters real life. Jessey, like many other aspiring anglers, works day jobs as well as competitive fishing. As I mentioned earlier, he is a hard worker, as in constructing screen enclosures and “hanging cages” as they say in Florida. Whether it’s 40 degrees or feels like 140 degress, Jessey has the work ethic and tan most would kill for.
What’s most important is that just like other good dudes, he had to put work first and it caused him to miss an event. Jessey Explained, “It was just something I had to do, my family raised me to keep priorities straight and missing an event doesn’t mean the end of a season, I think it just made me want the regional more!” Some might think, he is just saying that, but I know Jessey and I have for 3 years. No, he is not “just saying that” because it is what he thinks we want to hear, it’s the truth.
Now, with the regional approaching Jessey and his travel partner Austin Murray headed to Lake Seminole for practice. Now these two have been family friends and team tournament partners for quite some time and I see them as brothers. Practice was coming along ok and then Austin had to take a trip to the ER to get his arm looked at and they had a 5 ½ hour ER visit before the event. “That is why you travel and fish with your boys, I know Austin wouldn’t have left me there alone and there was no chance I was going to leave him there. Our families do too much together and are too close” said Jessey. It was in fact the Murray’s who sold Jessy his first boat not 6 months ago.
Finally, after the ups and down of practice, day one of the event was finally ready to blast off. Jessey fished through a tough day and had only 6 bites but when you fish clean good things happen. “I custom build my rod with MHX blanks and know exactly what each rod can do and it really has helped me out here” Said Jessey. He fished a jerkbait along the edges of the famous Lake Seminole hydrilla along with a fluke on the EPS86MHF to get a few bites, but then backed it up flipping the FP937 with the big weight to fill out his limit.
Day two comes and Jessey and his boater make a 30min run up the river to a stretch with matted hydrilla with few boats in the area. He again relied heavily on the FP937 for punching the matted hydrilla but also was getting a few bites on the frog that he threw on the FP885, which also happens to be the rod that John Cox fished to victory in the FLW CUP in August. “Both the FP885 and FP937 continue to amaze me in their fishing and fish catching ability. I feel like I could just carry those two while in the state of Florida and be in the hunt. I would love to see the look on my boater’s face if I only showed up with two rods,” joked Rudolph. Day two did have its share of close calls though, and this is exactly where being a co-angler adds a bit of stress to the situation.
While Jessey now had about 16lbs in the well, he was feeling very good about making the cut and getting the chance to fish on the final day—Saturday. He knew it was a 30-minute run back to the dock for check-in, and he recalls looking at his watch every minute for ten minutes waiting on his boater to make the decision to leave. “At 3:58pm I had to finally mention to my boater about leaving as we had to be back at 4:30pm” he recalls. Finally, his boater decided it was time to leave and the inevitable happened, motor wouldn’t crank. Jessey’s heart sank. “We tried everything, shutting off all the units, jumping it off the trolling motor battery, everything,” explained Jessey. “I was hollering at the only boat within sight of us as I watch the boat get up on plane to leave, I knew it was over.”
But Jessey’s silent prayers were answered as during the last minute he saw the boat swing around the point, heading right towards their stranded boat. That boater picked them up and he was able to make it back with two minutes to spare. A close call, but crisis averted. At the end of day two Jessey not only made it back, he took the lead!
Day 3 started a little slow, but he felt confident with the flippin stick and just went to work. He had 5 bites and landed all 5 to fill his limit. “The weigh in seemed to take forever as I really felt I had enough to take the win” Jessey was right. When the weight was called Jessey was the last man standing on the Co-Angler side. He immediately rushed off stage to hug his dad, who is his main inspiration and his #1 fan! “Dad and I fish and hunt together every chance we get and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said. Watching that moment streamed live via Facebook to see over 150 viewers and friends cheering him on, really speaks for the kind of person he is and it could not have happened to a better guy.
With this win, Jessey will qualify to fish the BFL All American while enjoying the additional prize of a Certificate for a Ranger Bass boat valued at over $45,000! I spoke to him briefly right after the win to congratulate him and he was buzzing and ready to get home to celebrate with family and friends. We spoke again on Tuesday to recap a little bit of the event, and he took time out of his lunch break as well as hanging cages to give us a little insight on how it went down. Needless to say, there was no arrogance, no chest beating, just Jessey.
Congratulations and Good Luck at the All American.