It didn’t take long for the fishing fever to spread like wildfire within Mark Daniels Jr. Growing up in California, Daniels quickly realized that the San Francisco Bay area offered a slew of fishing opportunities – opportunities that would one day lay the foundation for a 2013 TBF National championship title. From catching ocean perch to watching bass fishing shows on TV, Daniels could only dream of turning his passion into a professional fishing career – a trajectory which shows nothing but promise heading into the 2014 season.
Daniels fascination with fishing began when his parents started taking him out around San Francisco Bay to chase whatever they could catch before he was even a year old. However, even as a young boy, it didn’t take long for Daniels’ competitive spirit to come to the surface. Case in point, once he was old enough to handle a rod he quickly grew tired of using live bait. So he would bug his dad to put a lure on instead to provide more action. Even at that young age, Daniels appeared to exhibit all of the hallmarks of an aspiring professional angler.
“I really got into bass fishing from TV,” recalls Daniels. “I was about 5 years old and I knew right then that I wanted to be like those guys on TV someday.”
When he was 11, Daniels first set foot in a bass boat. Just a few years later he had joined the Bass Anglers of Northern California (BANC) at the age of 13.
“Fishing with BANC really helped me fine-tune my skills,” said Daniels. “I learned a lot from the other members of the club. Most of the guys in there were 30 or 40 years older than me so I had a wealth of knowledge to absorb. I was able to kind of formulate my own style from what I learned with those guys.”
Daniels was a quick study when it came to catching bass and knew from all of the shows he had watched that there was much more out there for him to experience. So, to broaden his horizons, he joined The Bass Federation (TBF) when he was 16.
“Joining the TBF was my first step outward to making (fishing) something bigger. Fishing with them allowed me to travel and get outside my comfort level. I couldn’t afford to pick up and move east to pursue a fishing career; I just didn’t have the finances to do that. But with the way the TBF runs things I could still get to travel without breaking the bank.
“I had been fishing with the TBF since I was 16 and never made it to the national championship until this year. The competition in California is so stiff; it’s just so hard to make it to the championship.”
Now at the age of 32, Daniels saw his dream come true by winning the TBF National Championship on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees this spring. Although it was his first time qualifying for the championship, he sacked up 62 pounds, 4 ounces over three days to claim the $100,000 “Living the Dream” package that will grant him an expense-paid entry to the 2014 Walmart FLW Tour.
“Winning the TBF National Championship truly was a life changing experience. It is something I have wanted all my life and now I get a chance at making this my career,” Daniels said. “I am meant to be a pro, but if you ask why, I can’t really answer. It’s just something I can feel and have felt all my life.”
Aside from winning the “Living the Dream” package, Daniels also received a ticket to the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup on the Red River that was held just a few weeks ago. Clearly unfazed by the pressure of competing with the best anglers in the world, Daniels took 17th place and a netted a $15,000 check, out-fishing nearly 30 of the top pros in the nation in the process – not too shabby for a guy competing on a body of water that he had never been too before.
A self-described family man, Daniels is also a full-time Agriculture Biologist for Solano County. While he has the support of his family to fish for a living, he acknowledges that is still struggling to balance his current career with his dream of going pro full time. As a result, Daniels said he will be forced to make some major life decisions before the 2014 FLW Tour season kicks off.
“To give yourself a true shot at making it in fishing you either need to go for it or don’t do it at all. With an opportunity to fish the Tour full time and have my entries paid, I can’t turn that down. I feel like I can compete with these guys and having a free ride on tour will allow me more time to focus on fishing hard and keeping an open mind.
“My job as of now only allows me three weeks off per year. There is a chance they may be able to work with my fishing schedule, but I doubt it. I might just have to walk away from my job. I can remember being 5 years old and dreaming about this opportunity that is now in front of me. I have to take it.”