Bass pro from Salmon Nation
By Mark Freeman
ASHLAND — Fishing one recent morning just for fun and not for money like he does on his day job, Jacob Wall spied a strange white mass finning on the surface of Emigrant Lake and knew exactly what was happening.
A 4-pound bass was flopping lethargically with the tail of a 7-inch black crappie protruding from its mouth.
“That’s how these Emigrant Lake largemouth get so big, by eating crappie like this,” says Wall, 24, a Jacksonville native.
With a pair of pliers, Wall extracts the crappie from the choking largemouth and watches as predator and prey both swim away.
Sorry to take your dinner away from you, buddy, but I saved your life,” Wall says.
Like that largemouth, Wall has lived to fish another day in the upper echelon of the pro bass tour, with his eyes on catching big fish and catching even bigger checks in his next year on the FLW Tour.
After a rookie campaign that saw the former Oregon high school bass-fishing champion net less in payouts than he paid in entry fees, Wall is primed to take what he’s learned and climb up the FLW rankings.
“It’s been pretty surreal, to be honest, but it’s been really fun,” Wall says while casting plastic worms for largemouth on Emigrant Lake southeast of Ashland.
“I’m fishing against guys I’ve looked up to since I was just getting started,” he says. “But when it comes down to it, you’re not fishing against anybody. You’re just trying to catch fish. It’s a mental battle between you and yourself.”
It’s a battle for which he’s all in.
Wall earlier this year extracted himself from Salmon Nation and moved to Alabama to embed himself in bass culture and to be closer to the FLW tour sites across the South.
He fished in seven tournaments on the FLW Tour, the highest level in the largest tournament angling organization in the world.
FLW, which stands for Fishing League Worldwide, sports a seven-tourney circuit that runs January through May and pays out $6.5 million in cash prizes.
In his rookie year, Wall finished 55th in the standings, cashing $28,500 but not covering his entry fees of more than $33,000.
Still, it’s not bad on a tour where young anglers typically fish a few years in the red before seeing black.
“It’s a little bit different than what I expected, but it was all good,” Wall says. “I had a lot of good experiences and learned a lot for next season.”
Even as a 12-year-old bass-fishing prodigy practicing for kid-casting contests, Wall knew all those practice casts on his family’s Jacksonville driveway would one day pay off.
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.
That practice earned a trip to the finals of the national Bassmaster CastingKids competition in 2007, then he returned the following year and won it all.
He initially competed in local tournaments through the Crater Bass Club and later St. Mary’s School. 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.
From there Wall matriculated to the University of Oregon, where he fished for the school in its club-sports program. His U of O team won two western division titles and qualified to fish the nationals all four years he was on the team.
After graduation in 2017, Wall returned to the Rogue Valley and fished this year’s FLW Costa Series before reaching the big time with FLW this year.
Wall says he’s had tremendous support from his parents, Jocie and Steve Wall. His dad has regularly traveled the bass circuit with Jacob, including this month’s FLW Costa Series championships, but he never forgot those days casting in the driveway and dreaming about hitting the big time.
“Unlike major league baseball or football, once you make it to that level you get paid to do it,” Wall says. “I made it to this level, and I’m still paying to do it, so that’s a little different.”