John E. Hoover: Zimbabwe 'farm boy' floats Bassmaster dreams in borrowed boat
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Friday, February 22, 2013
2/22/13 at 6:58 AM
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Go to John E. Hoover's blog.Original Print Headline: Zimbabwe 'farm boy' floats dreams in borrowed boats
FROM A SMALL farm pond in the African nation of Zimbabwe to the biggest fishing event in the world on Grand Lake, Gerry Jooste comes to the Bassmaster Classic at a competitive disadvantage.
"It is different," he said. "Vastly different."
Jooste said he'll need a good finish - say, $35,000 - just to break even from all his recent trips to the United States.
"Look, obviously everyone wants to win this tournament," Jooste said. "But I'm a weekend angler, so I've got to be realistic about this thing. I'll be thrilled with a top 10 finish, but I'll be quite disappointed if I don't finish in the top five."
Jooste lives and competes in Zimbabwe, where the local circuit is but five tournaments a year. He qualified for this year's Classic - his fifth - by coming to the United States as the top angler in Zimbabwe and beating a field of seven other anglers from the Mid-Atlantic region in October's B.A.S.S. Nation Championship.
He competed in the Bass Nation championship in Decatur, Ala., in October, and he pre-fished Grand Lake in December. So this is his third trip across the Atlantic in five months.
Jooste is behind the curve because there are no sponsors in Zimbabwe, he said, and it's all but impossible to get permanent sponsors in the U.S. when he lives so far away.
"I'm not a good sponsor person," he admits. "And the other thing is, I'm never here except when I make a tournament. So sponsors need a person that works for them every week, you know, be seen in the public. And as soon as I finish the tournament, I have to go back to work and look after my business. So in that way, it's more difficult."
Back home, Jooste manufactures bass boats.
"It's not a big business," he said. "There's a limited amount of customers. But it keeps me going. I make a small salary - enough to go fishing now and again."
Equipment can be a challenge, too. Imagine a NASCAR driver competing in an unfamiliar car, or a PGA golfer having to use borrowed clubs.
"When I come and fish a big tournament like this, I'm fishing in a different boat every time," Jooste said. "When you arrive, you've got to go collect the boat, get used to the boat, make sure everything is set up the way you want it. So that's a bit different, but I'm not using that as excuse. That takes two or three days and you're used to the boat. So that's not a factor on the scoreboard. It's just a fact that you have to put it in your schedule to make sure the stuff you're gonna be fishing with is what you're comfortable with."
In the field of 53 anglers in this year's Classic, 22 states are represented. Jooste is the only one who makes his home outside the U.S.
Bass fishing is a way of life here, but it's pretty big in Zimbabwe and neighboring South Africa, too. The largemouth species was introduced to various African lakes in the 1930s, and a Florida strain arrived in Zimbabwe in 1982.
Jooste said Zimbabwe bass are generally larger, which makes for a different pace of fishing.
"You need a big stringer to win a tournament," he said. "I don't know if it's because they're a little bit bigger and they're lazier, but you have to slow down with your fishing.
"They're not that aggressive when you're fishing with reaction baits. You can still catch them. But you're not gonna win many tournaments if you do that. Most of the deal is slowing down, big baits, catch a lot of big fish on the surface, still catch them on spinner baits, slow-rolling it. Pitching is a fantastic way to catch them."
He first refined those techniques in the 1960s and '70s, fishing a pond his father had stocked on their farm. As a kid, Jooste grew corn and tobacco, raised cows and pigs and fished for bass.
"I was a real farm boy," he said.
When he was 16, he said, "we moved to town" - that's Harare, Zimbabwe's largest city with a metropolitan population of nearly 3 million.
To go home happy - 8,900 miles (14,323 kilometers), or an 18-hour flight - Jooste needs to have a big weekend on Grand Lake.
After all, $35,000 is enough to buy one of his bass boats.
"It's a lot of money," he said. "You just have to look at the best possible, luckiest finish you can have.
"I'm not saying that I'll be really disappointed if I don't win, but if I come third or fourth, I'll love it. Absolutely love it."
Gerry Jooste of Zimbabwe said bass there are generally larger, making for a different pace of competitive fishing. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World