The typical tournament angler is somebody who relishes bass fishing and competition. Beyond that, there’s not much to stereotype. He or she might be rich or middle-class, a bricklayer or a doctor, an intellectual or somebody who relies on “walking-around sense” as a guide through life. Scan a long weigh-in line and you’ll see fishermen of varied backgrounds, whose feet have trod different paths to get there.
Which brings us to Jake Gipson. When we last saw him, he was hoisting the FLW National College Fishing Championship Trophy above his head. That’s not quite accurate; since 2010, when the former University of Florida angler and his co-angler teammate Matt Wercinski won the team title for the second consecutive year, Gipson has fished a couple of Walmart FLW Tour events as a co-angler and a Rayovac tournament as pro. He’s also won a few bucks along the way.
What we most remember about him, however, is what he did as a collegian. Memory fuses both championships – one coming at Ft. Loudoun Lake in 2009 and the other at Kentucky Lake in 2010 – into a single snapshot of triumph that likely will be forever unique. A college team that wins a championship is very good; a team that does it twice in a row sets itself apart as something special.
Gipson and Wercinski reached the 2009 National Championship by first winning the Southeast Regional Championship over runners-up Dennis Parker and Shaye Baker of Auburn, and third-place finishers Richard Peek and Caleb Rogers, another of the storied Auburn teams. The following year, the Gators overcame Thomas Frink and Jake Akin of Kennesaw State, and Baker and Jordan Lee of Auburn, to win their second regional. Then they captured their second national championship, and in the process established themselves as nose-to-the-grindstone kinds of guys who could always be counted on to apply their best effort when it counted the most.
“Going to school, fishing competitively and taking part in the national championship process those years involved a lot of pressure, but in the long run it really helped Matt and me in the next stages of our lives,” notes Gipson. “The competition was really good and we had stay on our game. Once we won that first championship and qualified to fish the next one, we had a big bull’s-eye on our backs. A lot of people expected us to do well, including us. We couldn’t let the pressure get to us. We had to compartmentalize the different things in our lives and not let things overlap to the point where we couldn’t reach the different goals we had set for ourselves.”
These days, the 26-year-old Gipson is still setting goals. He’s also still going to school, though now at the University of Alabama, where he is in his last semester of studies. After graduating summa cum laude from Florida with a degree in industrial and systems engineering, the Niceville, Fla., native made the most of a full scholarship to the University of Alabama Law School. He’ll graduate this spring with honors, including membership in the Order of the Coif, a national law school scholastic society reserved for the best and the brightest. Then it’s off to Birmingham and a year clerking for a federal judge. After that, Gipson will join a law firm where he hopes to specialize in intellectual property litigation – patents, trademarks, copyrights and that sort of thing.
He’s got the world by the tail on a downhill drag … and yet … those old longings for tournament fishing keep stirring, the what-ifs, the struggle to balance what a man loves with what he needs, and to decide whether they’re even compatible. Gipson faced the same sort of conundrum after he graduated from the University of Florida. Having won $357,500 for the university’s bass club in two years of fishing with Wercinski, Gipson was tempted mightily to leapfrog from the college ranks into the major leagues, as some of his former competitors did. He was able to defer the law school scholarship, and fished the Rayovac FLW Series instead. Ultimately, family members and friends convinced him to take advantage of his educational opportunities first.
Gipson is still unsettled, though. Tournament fishing still tugs at him. He’s signed to fish the six Walmart FLW Tour events this year as a co-angler, beginning with Lake Okeechobee. And one of his professional ambitions is to practice law in Huntsville, which is at the hub of some of the most important tournament waters in the country.
“The way things are for me now, fishing as a pro is something that’s going to have to wait,” says Gipson. “It’s a huge commitment of time and money, and – just coming out of law school – I won’t be able to. Down the road, maybe, if I’m more the master of my schedule and perhaps have my own practice. I might have more time to fish then. At least I would like to give it a crack.”
That’s all left for the future to sort out, or perhaps not. All we know with any degree of certainty is that on whatever path Jake Gipson sets foot, he’ll wind up at the top of the class.