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MailTribune.com
  • It's definitely no longer kid's play

  • Even as a 12-year-old bass-fishing prodigy, Jacob Wall knew all those practice casts on his family's Jacksonville driveway would one day turn into cash.
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  • Even as a 12-year-old bass-fishing prodigy, Jacob Wall knew all those practice casts on his family's Jacksonville driveway would one day turn into cash.
    For hours after school, Wall would practice pitching or flipping jigs onto plastic targets stapled to pieces of plywood, emulating casts he'd seen on televised bass tournaments and believing that one day he'd be that guy.
    Today, the 18-year-old Wall is that guy, pitching and flipping baits in the Sacramento River Delta, hoping to qualify for Saturday's finals in what the St. Mary's School senior hopes will be the first of many professional bass tournament wins.
    Wall is looking to best 120 other so-called "co-anglers" fishing with pros at the FLW Everstart Series event. Fishing for largemouth bass, Wall's goal is to be among the final 10 anglers and gain a shot at $5,000 cash and a new bass boat and motor — by far the highest stakes he's faced in his young career.
    Although he's the only teen in the field of seasoned anglers, Wall certainly isn't playing the "it's just an honor to be here" card this week.
    "I'm going to go out on a limb here and say I have a pretty good chance of winning this thing," says Wall, 18. "I feel like I have the skills and abilities to catch fish if I'm near them.
    "I always knew I could take it this far," he says.
    So did Al Laurance, a bass angler who runs baitdomain.com, one of a handful of businesses that already sponsor Wall on his quest.
    "This is the big time," says Laurance, who runs his online fishing shop out of his home near Jacksonville. "He'll definitely get noticed.
    "It's a fantastic opportunity, but it's definitely a different kind of pressure," Laurance says.
    Pressure? What pressure?
    "Hey, it's just another rodeo," Wall says.
    Wall's climb up the bass-fishing ladder already has been boosted by many top finishes. That 12-year-old boy flipping in the driveway in 2007 earned a trip to the finals for the national Bassmaster CastingKids competition, then he returned the following year and won it all.
    In 2011, he and former partner Colby Pearson won the first Oregon high school championship and ended up second in the national high-school bass championships.
    Pearson graduated last year, so Wall teamed with a Springfield angler to successfully defend his state title last month, earning another trip to the national finals.
    But that's kids play compared to the FLW Everstart Series, one of the world's most lucrative bass-tournament circuits.
    "It's a pretty big step up," Wall says. "The competition is a lot more than I've ever been in."
    Wall, competing as a "co-angler," is paired each day with a pro and fishes out of the back seat.
    Competitors fished Thursday and will be on the water again today, with the top 10 in the pro and co-angler categories fishing in Saturday's finals.
    Winner of the pro division gets $40,000 and a new bass boat and motor. The top co-angler earns $5,000 and a boat and motor.
    Wall says his success may hinge largely on the success of the pros with whom he gets paired. If the pros know the delta and what techniques will work this week, Wall could find himself with enough big bass to get into the finals.
    The downside, however, is that co-anglers must fish where and how their pro fishes. If the pro chooses to flip jigs or cast crankbaits, that's what Wall will have to do.
    "As a co-angler, you have to be versatile," he says.
    His success and versatility this week could do more for Wall's career than anything he's accomplished so far, Laurance says.
    Standing out on the delta will put Wall on the radar screens of national sponsors who could boost his already positive fishing trajectory.
    "If you do well as a co-angler, it shows you have promise, and Jake has the skills to do it," Laurance says. "This will let you know if it's the next big step for you."
    Whatever happens this weekend, Wall already is poised for another big step.
    He'll enroll next fall in the University of Oregon, where he plans to compete on the school's club bass-fishing team. And he'd rather do it with $5,000 in his pocket and towing something other than his 1984-vintage Trophy bass boat with a 90-horsepower Envinrude outboard.
    "I love my boat," Wall says. "But you know what? It would be great to throw that one on Craigslist and fish out of a new one."
    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MarkCFreeman
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