James Watson isn’t a household name in professional bass fishing. At this point in his career, he’s OK with that. But if the fourth-year pro from Waynesville, Mo., continues his current track, that will soon change.
Watson, a 10-year Army veteran, is a relative newcomer to the sport. Upon completion of his military service, Watson began employment as a real estate sales agent. After thriving in that role, the 40-year-old opened his own Realty Executives franchise in central Missouri right outside Fort Leonard Wood. Once his business took off, Watson took to the water.
“I now spend over 200 days a year fishing,” he said. “Thankfully I have a manager that runs everything, even when I’m there in the office. I don’t have to worry about stuff when I’m gone, and that is so helpful. Could I make more money if I wasn’t always on the road? Sure, but it’s not all about the money, it’s really not. All I want to do now is fish.”
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Watson took his lumps his first few years on Tour. He’d catch a big bag one day only to return to the same area the next and strike out using similar tactics.
“I made a conscious effort this year not to get spun out and get upset at myself,” he explained. “That has allowed me to follow my gut. When you’re following your gut, you’re fishing by the seat of your pants. I’m going to every event now with an open mind and a good attitude. Over the last few years, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I’d have one bad tournament and I’d be so mad I’d put even more pressure on myself to catch them at the next tournament. And the negativity would just snowball.”
“I caught them pretty good on a crankbait the first day. But on the second day they wouldn’t bite it in the flat-calm conditions. I finally decided to open up and just go fishing. I switched to flipping bushes and boat docks and ended up bringing a good limit to the scale. Before I would’ve gotten wrapped around the axle about where I caught them the day before and on what. Now I’m not afraid to fish new water. I tell myself, ‘Hey, you’re a good enough fisherman, go out and fish.’ I just have confidence now that I’m doing the right thing.
“Now I’m just looking at stuff in practice, not even fishing it, and then I’ll go there during the tournament and catch a key fish. That’s what Jason is so good at. He just goes and fishes his strengths.”
When Watson references Jason, he’s talking about the hottest angler in the sport – Rayovac pro Jason Christie. Watson travels with Christie and Arkansas pro Robbie Dodson.
“Jason’s schedule has gotten kind of crazy this year between family and fishing both circuits, but Robbie and I have really become close friends, we share everything.”
Watson lightheartedly refers to Christie as the “Indian” because of his Cherokee descent and Dodson as the “Ridge Runner” because of his backwoods Arkansas upbringing.
“You can’t run with the Indian and the Ridge Runner and not learn something about bass fishing. Everybody knows about Jason now. But Robbie is a great fisherman too. He’s a quiet guy, but I honestly think he’s the most underrated fisherman on tour. He can flip and pitch jigs with the best – great squarebill guy too. He can throw a spinnerbait all day; the guy is just a bass-whacking fool.”
“I like to flip Luck-E-Strike jigs and tubes; that’s my comfort zone. But some of my success this year has been about picking up an ultralight. That’s something I’ve never really done, but this year I have and it has saved my butt.”
At the halfway point in the FLW Tour season, Watson sits sixth in the Angler of the Year race with 522 points. While he’s thrown it in regional tournaments, none of his newfound success has come via umbrella rigs.
“The Alabama rig hasn’t done a thing for me,” Watson remarked. “Overall, I’m pretty neutral about it. I just look at it as a good prespawn bait. It just hasn’t played a role in any major event for me. I will say it’s not the cure for the haphazard fisherman. Confidence is the cure, not the Alabama rig.”
Watson likes the remaining three FLW Tour venues, but vows to continue to fish with an open mind.
“My goal is to get that first Forrest Wood Cup berth as a pro. I hope to do well more for my sponsors than I do for myself if that makes sense. There are some people out there, like Veteran United Home Loans, that I want to make proud. And really, I’m fishing looser because of great sponsors.”