Originally created 09/17/06

Aiken angler is thriving pro



Followers of the pro fishing circuit all have their favorites.

There are luminaries like Roland Martin and Kevin VanDam - and the outburst-prone Mike Iaconelli.

Closer to home, Aiken resident Jason Williamson has been quietly practicing ever since his first tournament win in the 10th grade.

This year, it's starting to pay off - handsomely.

"I don't have words to describe it other than to say it's been a heck of a year," said Williamson, who has amassed $104,000 in 2006 winnings, with several key tournaments still ahead.

Williamson, 25, is in his first year of full-time pro fishing.

Prior to that, he spent much of his working life at his family auto repair business started by his grandfather 32 years ago. But every weekend, he was fishing.

"I grew up fishing Clarks Hill," he said. "When my high school friends were out partying, I was out fishing with my dad. It's what I've always wanted to do."

His interest in fishing gradually became a career choice, fueled by his first big win 11 years ago.

"When I was 15 - in 1995 - I fished an open team bass tournament," he said. "One of my buddies and I went up there. We won the thing, and we had big fish, too."

The following week, he was a 10th grader with $2,000 in his pocket. "That pretty much got me hooked."

This year, he has two second-place finishes at major tournaments at Santee Cooper, S.C., where he won $53,800; and at a Citgo Bassmaster Northern Tour event on the Mississippi River in July, where he won $33,245.

Currently, he is leading the point standings in the Northern Division of the Citgo Bassmaster Tour, meaning he has good chance of moving into the Bassmaster Elite series next year - and also a shot at qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic.

"It's been amazing," he said. "At the beginning of the year I had no idea the Classic would be in my sights. Most of these guys are older and have been doing it a lot longer than I have."

Along with his winnings, Williamson's list of sponsors is growing, too, with companies including Ranger Boats, Mercury Outboards and Augusta Marine.

But his biggest sponsor doesn't manufacture fishing gear at all. It's his dad, Ronnie Williamson.

"He's helped me the most," he said. "He's always been able to fund me in this sport."

Touring the country as a pro fisherman has plenty of glamour - but Williamson has learned it's also a demanding job.

He has traveled 30,000 miles since January, with many trips still ahead.

"It's a lot of pressure, fishing daylight to dark, then eating and going to bed," he said. "After seven or eight days of that, you're exhausted."

Would he trade it for some other career? "No way."

RAMP REOPENED: Anglers who have been unable to launch boats at Columbia County's $1.1 million tournament facility in recent weeks were grateful to find the ramps reopened Saturday.

Thurmond Lake's falling water levels had left the six-lane "mega-ramp" unusable, but a $104,000 extension completed last week should solve the problem well into the future, according to Stacie Adkins, the county's special events coordinator.

The modifications extended each ramp an additional 40 feet. The modifications should make the ramps usable when the pool falls as low as 319 feet above sea level - or 11 feet below full pool.

Currently, the lake is at 323.3 feet above sea level - or more than 6 feet low.

NATIONAL HUNTING & FISHING DAY: Saturday, Sept. 23, is National Hunting and Fishing Day, with festivities that include an Outdoor Adventure Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the McDuffie Public Fishing Area near Thomson.

This event is for youngsters 15 and under accompanied by an adult.

Activities include fishing, archery, airguns, Laser Shot hunting simulator, a wildlife showcase exhibit and Education Center exhibit. For more details, call information, (706) 595-1684.

The U.S. Congress and President Nixon established National Hunting and Fishing Day 35 years ago.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.