By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
It's pretty much impossible these days to get to the Bassmaster Elite Series any quicker than James Elam did. The 26-year-old Oklahoman has competed in only three B.A.S.S.-sanctioned events, and ironically, he didn't log a Top-10 placement in any of them.
He qualified via his 8th-place finish in this year's Central Open points Ė his best showing in the three tournaments on that circuit was 11th, but his worst was 36th. Only the Top 5 on the final points list are guaranteed Elite berths, but B.A.S.S. often goes further down the list to fill the slots, and his cause was helped by the fact that five of the seven anglers who finished ahead of him are established Elite competitors.
"I don't think I could ask for a better time to do this," he said. "I'm young and single and I've got my college education out of the way, so I really don't have any ties to anything.
"I'm energetic, I'm in shape and I'm ready to do it. If I'm going to do it at any time, this is the time."
Elam, who graduated from Oklahoma State in 2009 with a degree in landscape architecture, aided in getting that school's fishing program off the ground. He served as the club president for 2 years and helped the Cowboys to a victory in the Oklahoma Invitational in 2007, along with a 3rd-place showing at the Cabela's Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship the year before.
His tournament fishing since graduation was primarily limited to the greater Tulsa area until he signed up for the Central Opens this year. He was fortunate to be able to work those events into his schedule, as he's employed full-time by a firm that does assessments for refineries and advises them as to how to burn their products more efficiently.
He said he was a bit surprised that he showed such a high level of consistency on that trail, which featured numerous Elite pros and some from the FLW Tour as well, but he also thought he could hold his own.
"I'd fished a lot of tournaments around here with a lot of boats and a lot of (pro anglers), so I'd been exposed to that already," he said. "I don't let nerves or anything like that bother me at all.
"I worked so hard, and I actually expected to do better at Table Rock (where he was 18th). I wasn't satisfied with that one at all. Lewisville (36th), as tough as it was, I was glad to have caught what I did."
Some Obstacles Ahead
Having competed on the wide variety of lakes in his home region, Elam feels he's versatile enough to confront whatever fishing conditions he encounters on the Elite Series.
"I've learned to do a lot of different things," he said. "Probably my biggest strength is offshore, but I love to fish shallow, too. I've never fished up north before (the Elite Series will visit Lake Erie and the St. Lawrence River this year), but I'm looking forward to the opportunity to catch some smallmouth because that should be really fun.
"I'd love to make the (2014) Classic, but I know it's not likely that I'm going to go out there and burn it up my first year. I go into every tournament trying to win, and sometimes when you do that you figure out the 25th-place deal. I just want to fish smart and do as well in the points as I can."
Funding the full season is his biggest concern at this point. He got some help with the initial deposit from Wohali Rods, but he'll need to come up with some more sponsorship dough this spring.
"That's the only thing I'm worried about right now Ė I want to have the means to do it and be comfortable. As long as I have money for gas and the other travel expenses and a place to stay, I feel like I can take care of the fishing part through hard work. I'll formulate a gameplan for each tournament and then go at it.
"I'm less experienced than most of the Elite guys and I've got a lesson or two coming, for sure. I'm not as worried about that, though, as I am the financial part of it."