It is somewhat ironic that after only one season in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Opens, Florida-born and Southern-bred angler Kyle Fox made it into the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series. The irony is sharper because his Northern success came after toiling four seasons in the closer-to-home Bassmaster Southern and Central Opens.
Although the Elites came to him from an unexpected direction, Fox sees his five years in the minors as necessary for an angler who wants to become a well-rounded pro.“It was all a learning experience,” he said. “I feel I’ve taken something from all the tournaments I’ve been in, things that will help me in the Elites.”And time, after all, was on his side. He was 19 years-old in 2007 when he set out on his journey to be an Elite. He’ll be 23 when he competes in his first two Elite events. Even when he turns 24 in April, he still will be one of the youngest in the field.
Fox can’t remember a time without fishing. He cut his angling teeth on Florida fisheries and became a Bassmaster Junior angler. When he decided to go for pro status in 2007, he elected the Bassmaster Southern Open circuit. From 2008 through 2010, he fished both the Southern and Central divisions. He competed in dual divisions for four years, but each time fell short of the qualifying cut.
In 2011, he again went with the Southern Opens. But he made the decision to pass on the Central and try the Northern Open division instead. He says he wasn’t thinking that the Northerns would lead to the Elites. He was after only what he could learn from the Northern’s 2011 stops: vast and open Lake Erie, the smallmouth factory of Oneida Lake in upstate New York, and the tidal James River.
He discovered that almost everything about the three Northern fisheries was foreign to him.“I’d never had to target smallmouth, fish in open water, or fish a dropshot or a tube. I spent all my practice time before a tournament to figure out each new thing for myself,” he said.Becoming his own teacher, he proved to be a good student. He finished 30th on the James, 12th on Erie, and 36th on Oneida. That shook down to fourth place in Northern points, within the top-five cutline for an Elite invitation. Achieving his goal was not, as some might think, redemption for his missed chance in 2007. After his first Open season in 2007, he qualified for the Wild Card tournament, a “last chance” for Open anglers to advance to the Elite level that year. He finished 24th, not high enough.
Fox now sees he wasn’t ready at that age.“I hadn’t had the experience I needed,” he said. “I would have jumped into the Elites and probably got my butt whooped, and never tried it ever again.”