DAYTON, Tenn. — Australian tournament angler David Lawson had never made a cast for largemouth bass in American waters until last week. He came for a reason, and that was to compete as a co-angler at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open on Lake Chickamauga.
“It is mind-boggling, nothing I could have ever imagined would have prepared me for this,” he recalled after practicing with fellow Australian Carl Jocumsen. “I came here thinking I could use some of my custom baits and techniques, but that got thrown out the window.”
None of that surprised Jocumsen, who is hosting Lawson as part of a Facebook dream trip he created to treat Australians to the Bassmaster tournament experience.
“David is having the very same realization that every talented Australian tournament angler like him has when they come and try it in the U.S.A.,” related Jocumsen. “They realize it’s a completely different world here.”
Jocumsen should know. He first came to America in 2011 as a co-angler fishing a Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open. Now, it’s Lawson’s turn to give it a try, and he is getting that chance thanks to an idea inspired by him and other Australians.
That idea transpired last year when Jocumsen vacationed in his home country. The Bassmaster Elite Series and Opens pro was shocked by the attention he garnered at public gatherings. As he encountered social media followers all of them expressed keen interest in coming to America to experience his career.
“It was humbling and as I kept making appearances, every single person I met wanted to come back and experience it,” he said. “I realized I had a lot of social media followers but had no idea they were so crazy about seeing it for real.”
The turning point for the idea came in Melbourne, which is on the opposite side of the country from where Jocumsen is from. He would conduct a fishing seminar for what he expected to be a small crowd not knowing about his notoriety as an American bass pro. A large crowd of over 600 fishing fanatics showed up, and all wanted to come to America and experience tournament fishing.
“It was insane and I didn’t know any of them,” he said. “It was so humbling and just lifted me up, and I decided to do something about it, for them and me.”
He continued, “I remember how hard it was for me when I came over here the first time. I didn’t know anyone, or have any idea about what American bass fishing was all about.”
Jocumsen solicited his Facebook followers in Australia to submit essays on why they wanted to come to America for the ultimate tournament experience. Four entrants would be chosen and the winners would spend the entire trip with Jocumsen, witnessing firsthand how he lives, prepares, practices and competes in an Opens tournament. At the same time, each winner would compete as a co-angler.
Lawson signed up, made the cut and here he is at Lake Chickamauga. Call it the American tournament experience on steroids. Lawson spent 12-hour days on Chickamauga for three days of practice with Jocumsen, who schooled him on everything from the basics to the advanced techniques.
What came next was a cram course in how the techniques and tackle used for American bass greatly differed from what Lawson was used to doing in Australia. There, he competes in tournaments where the prized fish is the Australian Yellowbelly, a hard fighting and aggressively biting game fish.
“I had to completely unlearn everything I knew about tournament fishing in Australia,” Lawson said. “On the first morning I rigged up some of my custom baits and Carl quietly and patiently watched me, knowing what would come next while not saying a word.”
Lawson took note that things were going to be different when he cast his eyes on the front deck of Jocumsen’s boat. Lined up on the deck were 18 rod-and-reel outfits. Lures the likes of which he’d never seen were tied on, from big lipped crankbaits to gargantuan swimbaits.
“The tackle was one thing but the bite of the bass was the most challenging because they bite so soft compared to the yellowbelly,” said Lawson. “I think I missed 11 bites before actually catching my first American bass.”
The next lesson was equally as challenging. Jocumsen took his student through the dizzying array of tactics and lures used to play the game.
“There are so many specialized techniques like drop shotting, the shakey head, the deepwater cranking,” said Lawson. “So far it’s been a great experience being totally immersed in it with Carl, who is just an amazing teacher.”
Even with the handicaps and challenges Lawson and Jocumsen mutually discovered the benefits.
“I cannot wait to see what David does with all this when he gets back home,” said Jocumsen. “He will be taking back this massive arsenal of ideas that he can share with other Australian anglers.”
“What’s really cool is he had three days of fishing with me in practice, and now he gets two more days of fishing with other pros to learn even more about our bass fishing,” he added.
“I cannot wait to get home and put it all together and put it in front of our fish, because I am just going to smash them,” added Lawson.
Jocumsen achieved what he set out to do, which was allow Australians to experience American bass tournament fishing. Even so, it all comes down to the same thing no matter where in the world it takes place.
“We are just two Australians sharing the same boat in the middle of Tennessee, going fishing and having fun,” said Jocumsen. “That’s what fishing is all about.”