THOMSON, Ga. -- American dreams cover many subjects, depending on who's dreaming, and so Jordan Dozier muses about going bass fishing for a living.
Nowadays, it's possible to do just that, with tournament cash prizes exceeding millions of dollars annually.
After graduating from Thomson High School in 1997, Dozier worked out a deal with his parents, Bill and Connie Dozier: If he couldn't make a go of it on the bass tournament trail, he'd enter college and finish his education.
The 19-year-old faces some formidable hurdles. He has no sponsors and no bass boat, so he's competing in tournaments as a non-boater. That means he fishes in the amateur division from the back of a professional bass fisherman's boat.
The pro operates the electric trolling motor during the eight-hour tournament day and Dozier fishes mostly in "used water," areas that the pro has already fished. Still, if pro partners (picked in a draw before each tournament day) turn out to be nice guys, amateur anglers have a chance to win their division.
Dozier got lucky in Operation Bass's EverStart Series tournament on Florida's Lake Okeechobee earlier this month.
"I fished with two guys in the four-day tournament, winding up with Ricky Schumpert of Lexington, S.C., for three of the days," Dozier said during an interview at his home earlier this week. "The other pro was Mike Tilley of Virginia and I got along fine with both of them."
During the three-day practice period before the tournament's start, Dozier discovered bass "would eat" a Zoom white plastic floating worm. He caught bass weighing 4 pounds, 6 ounces the first day with Schumpert, 12 pounds, 15 ounces the second day with Tilley (including a 7-pounder, the biggest fish caught that day, but losing a 9-pounder) and 8 pounds, 6 ounces the third day with Schumpert (including a 6-pounder).
Dozier caught no fish the final day -- "they'd moved out of the area we'd been fishing" -- but Schumpert caught a 4-pound class bass and finished eighth in the Pro Division, winning $4,500. Dozier finished sixth as an amateur and pocketed $1,800, including a $200 bonus for his 7-pound bass -- his first major tournament earnings.
"I'm going to continue to fish as an amateur in the EverStart Series for the rest of this year. I'm learning something every day I'm on the water, like tournament etiquette and being able to make the right decisions on the water.
"You've also got to have respect for your partner and not disturb him if he's in contention."
Dozier will compete in the EverStart tournaments on the Georgia-Alabama border lake of West Point in March, Santee Cooper in South Carolina in April, Alabama's Lake Eufaula in May and the EverStart Challenge on Kerr Lake on the North Carolina-Virginia border in September.
"I'm hoping to earn enough money for a down payment on a bass boat so I can turn pro next year," Dozier said. "If I do well, perhaps I can attract some sponsors' attention."
Dozier credits his earliest interest in fishing to his grandfather, Jay Foldes, of Statesboro, Ga., and his latest yearning to Royce Railey, minister of youth and activities at Thomson's First Baptist Church. Railey also competes in national bass tournaments.
"Royce has become my best friend and mentor. I started fishing local bass tournaments when I was 15 and my love for the sport sort of came on gradually. I went to (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society) invitationals with him and just seeing famous pros like Roland Martin got me fired up."
Railey says, that as youth minister, he tries to get close by choosing subjects of mutual interest. With Dozier, it was fishing.
"The first time I took him fishing, we had an incredible day, catching more than 25 bass. Since then, he's accompanied me to almost all my tournaments, helping during practice sessions by fishing lures different than what I'm using," Railey said.
"I believe he has the skills to succeed as a professional bass fisherman -- he just needs the experience. It is encouraging to see a young man grow in his faith and then aspire to make his way in life."
When he's not fishing, Dozier works with Glenn Chappelear of Dallas, Ga., who, with wife Donna, founded Sportsmen's Outreach Inc., a religious group.
Bill Babb can be reached at (706) 823-33304.
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