What comes to mind when you think of the word “character?” Perhaps you think of things such as morals, integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, faithfulness, and friendliness. The New World Dictionary defines character as “the combination of traits and qualities distinguishing the individual nature of a person or thing.” Character is something that a person develops throughout their life experiences. Traits and qualities can be taught and exemplified, but it is up to the individual to live by them. A person’s character often defines them in the public eye, in their performance at their chosen profession, and in their worth to their colleagues. Remember this: character coupled with drive and faith is an unconquerable recipe for success.
If you follow the sport of professional bass fishing, you may recognize many of the sport’s participants for the persona that they exude. Some guys are flashy, some are classy, some are quiet and some are outspoken. Ask any of them and they will all agree without exception that one of their peers extraordinarily exemplifies character. His name is James Niggemeyer.
James grew up in Glendale, California, a suburb of L.A. He spent his youth fishing primarily for trout with his father, Paul, in the High Sierras. His father had a love for the mountains and their fishing riches. This love was passed along to his son through summer trips and short fishing excursions. From an early age, James was certain that fishing, to some degree, would be a constant in his life. James then met a friend in high school, Uwe Nill, who harbored that same passion for fishing, and the two of them became inseparable. They even worked for the same tackle shop during the summer. It was during this time that James became infatuated with bass fishing in particular. He felt that it “was an interesting challenge every day and that there were endless facets to it.”
Upon graduating high school, James worked for his father while attending college and ultimately earning an Associate’s Degree in art. Admittedly, James chose art as a major because he thought it would be easy and his parents really wanted him to continue his education. “I had a knack for it and it kept my family happy. That in turn allowed me a great deal of time to fish,” said James. During his college years, James had started competing in local bass club tournaments and made the move from the back to the front of the boat. He made a friend by the name of Bob Roster who he considers one of his early mentors in the bass tournament game. Sometime after college, James met Mark Davis at a seminar and had the opportunity to speak with him afterwards. He expressed his desire to fish professionally to Mark, who advised him to take up guiding. This would allow him to hone his skills on the water while simultaneously providing income and a flexible schedule that would allow for tournaments. Upon hearing this, James decided to begin a new chapter in his life. He packed his truck and headed to Texas’ famous Lake Fork. It was here that he would learn to guide, learn to fish, and ultimately learn what his life was all about.
When he arrived in Texas in 2001, all James had was a dream. He spent time bouncing around the Lake Fork area. He lived in a travel trailer, on a friend’s couch, in a barn, and even in an old warehouse while attempting tofind his place in the world. According to James, at this point fishing was the equivalent of “an idol” in his life; it was everything to him and all that he thought about. It was during this time that he had noticed the success of a few pro anglers such as Jay Yelas and Mark Davis, and how they related their success to their faith. James wanted those same blessings for his fishing career and modestly admits that “the initial reasons I sought out becoming a Christian were selfish…To be blessed by Him, but out of that came something better and more fulfilling than what I had initially wanted or ever expected. My faith grew and I experienced God in my life. He used my selfish intentions to bring me to Him and the result has been the realization of God as my Savior and provider.”
Upon his commitment to Christianity in 2003, James backed off on his fishing as the center focus of his life, offering the primary place in his life to God. He wasn’t certain in what direction he would be led, but he knewit would be in the direction that his faith led him. All the while he continued to fish in lesser capacities and was still very passionate about it. It was during this time that he met Sandy, who would soon become his wife. Not long afterward, James found himself a husband and expectant father. He was concerned with how he was going to provide for a family on the earnings of a fishing guide and amateur tournament angler. It was very shortly after the birth of his son, Daniel, that his career began to be blessed as well.
In the fall of 2005 James arrived home from a mission trip to South Africa. With a wife and newborn son at home, he traveled to Lake Ouachita in Arkansas and won a BFL Regional. This was a substantial shot in the arm for his income as well as the beginning of his path towards pro angling success. Within a matter of weeks, James also went on to win the Bassmaster Weekend Series Regional on the Red River. That afforded him the opportunity to fish the Bassmaster Southern Tour in 2006, during which he won an event at Santee Cooper in South Carolina and qualified him for the Elites. In his words, “God was opening doors in my career and showing Himself to be my provider. In the midst of the challenges of life away from home, being a husband, and being a father, He was my source of strength.”
Since joining the Elite Series in 2007, James has qualified for the Classic twice, including a huge 2009 season when he double-qualified through his 25th place finish in the Elite points standings as well as winning the points in the Central Open. Since this time he has also won an Open on Toledo Bend and posted two 7th place Elite finishes. He cites consistency as his number one annual goal, and that should culminate in a Classic berth.
James has been with Strike King since 2007 and states that he “considers it a privilege and blessing to be amongst the members of the industry’s most elite pro staff.” Strike King gets their money’s worth out of him in return as he brings a ton of depth in the capacity of lure design ideas. His formative years spent fishing the deep clear waters of Southern California go hand in hand with his intimate knowledge of sight fishing, finesse fishing, and soft plastics. He is a self-described “soft plastic junky” and adds that “Strike King’s plastic line-up offers me every tool that I need to confidently tackle any situation. From the detail, color and texture ofthe Perfect Plastic line to the design and action of the Rage Tail line, we have the right plastic bait for any application.”
These days you can find James, Sandy and their two kids, Daniel and Abigail, together at all the Elite Series events. He claims that although there are obvious challenges to traveling as a family, such as long drives and living out of a 100 square foot camper, they wouldn’t have it any other way. It is important to the Niggemeyers for their family to be together.
There may very well be pro anglers out there with a longer list of tournament accomplishments, money won, magazine covers, and sponsorship deals. But I dare you to find one that gets a better endorsement from his friends,sponsors and peers than James Niggemeyer. From on the water, to his family, to his faith, James humbly exemplifies the definition of character. He has all the ingredients of the recipe, and everyone who knows him will agree that so far, he’s just served up an appetizer. Stay tuned for the main course.
This story originally appeared on: http://www.strikeking.com/.
Photos: Steve Price