When Georgia’s Buddy Gross competed in the 2019 Bassmaster Eastern Opens, he was already making his living as a professional bass tournament angler. Over the past four years he has sacked nearly $450,000 in winnings on the FLW Tour.
“When I started fishing the Opens, my incentive was to cash checks for my family,” Gross said.
After finishing sixth at the first Eastern Open on Florida’s Harris Chain and third at the second Open at Lake Chickamauga, his focus changed from making money to qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series. When the smoke cleared after all four Eastern Opens, Gross had qualified for the Elites by finishing fifth in the AOY standings.
This presented him with a dilemma. Should he fish the FLW Tour or the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2020? He decided to become a 47-year-old Elite Series newcomer.
“I grew up watching bass fishing all my life, mostly Bassmaster as kid,” Gross said. “It’s kind of been an unspoken goal to become a Bassmaster pro.”
Gross lives in Chickamauga, Ga., with his wife LeAnn; 14-year-old son, Myles; and daughter, Bella, who is 11. The small town lies about 20 miles south of Lake Chickamauga in Tennessee, which is where Gross’s father, Boonie, started him on the road to bass stardom.
“My dad got me fishing when I was 6 or 7 years old,” Gross said. “One day I was standing on the bank casting a spinnerbait into Chickamauga and caught a 4-pounder. I was hooked for life.”
The 4-pounder generated so much resistance that Gross’s spincasting reel locked up. He had to walk backward to pull the bass to the bank where he could snatch it out of the water.
“My dad bought me my first baitcaster on the way home from the lake,” Gross said. “I was very fortunate as a kid. I got to ride motorcycles, hunt, fish and do whatever I wanted to do.”
At age 12 Gross teamed up with his father to fish his first bass tournament, which was on Weiss Lake in Alabama. Although they failed to catch a bass, Gross was enthralled with the experience.
“We fished tons of team tournaments after that, mostly afternoon wildcat tournaments,” Gross said.
Gross’s parents kept a cabin cruiser on Lake Chickamauga, as well as a 12-foot aluminum johnboat with an electric motor fixed to the transom. He was allowed to fish alone out of the boat at age 10, and he continued to do so until age 14. The small craft was powered by four tractor-trailer batteries, “two to get out and two to get back.”
When Gross was 15 his father bought a Stratos 201 with 225 hp outboard. The high-powered bass boat put him in “tall cotton” for a year or so. However, fishing took a back seat when Gross began driving at age 16 and found girls more fascinating than bass. He was also into sports and competed in “everything but basketball” in high school.
After graduating from Lakeview Fort Oglethorpe High School in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., in 1991 Gross settled into a job selling heavy trucks. In his mid 20s he got seriously back into fishing local tournaments for six years before his interest in the sport waned again.
It picked up again in a big way after he married in 2008 and began fishing local team tournaments with James Milling. They did especially well fishing spinnerbaits and crankbaits at Nickajack Lake.
In 2015 Gross competed in his first full year of a Costa Series, which is how he qualified for the 2016 FLW Tour. After the first three Tour events in 2016 Gross was financially tapped out. He had to do well at the next tournament at Pickwick Lake to avoid dropping out. He won the event by fishing a hair jig in eelgrass and never looked back.
Over the past three years Gross has learned how to catch bass with finesse techniques, but he would rather be flipping and slinging swimbaits, crankbaits and other power baits. He especially likes fishing grass.
“I’m a big fish guy,” Gross said. “I love a slugfest.”
His goal in 2020 is to qualify for the Classic and use Bassmaster’s platform to build his brand.
“I don’t plan on going anywhere else,” Gross said of fishing the Elite Series. “It’s a better place for me and my family.”
Gross’s sponsors include, Mercury Marine, Bullet Boats, Fish Dayton Tennessee, BoatLogix, Daiwa, Owner Hooks, Zoom Baits, Humminbird, Power-Pole, YETI, Fish Lake Chickamauga, Dacron Technologies Inc., Tackle Trap, ProFound Outdoors, Costa Sunglasses, Bob’s Machine Shop, 27 Sports, Fitzgerald Fishing, Hank’s Carpet and Flooring, Decked, Integrity, Leer, Bedside, Boss Van Trucks, Ledgehog, Scottsborro Tackle, Bass Nation, C&O Marine, US Stove Company and Cush It - Luna Sea.