By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
J.P. Prouty hasn't yet launched his FLW Tour career, but he already shares one distinction with David Dudley: More than a decade ago, Prouty and the top-ranked angler in the BassFan World Rankings were both saltwater guides working out of the tiny hamlet of Manteo, N.C.
Manteo had only about 1,000 residents at the time, but surprisingly, Prouty and Dudley did not know each other.
"He was doing inshore and I was doing offshore stuff," Prouty said. "The town was so small that we had to be sitting right near each other at lunches or dinners. There were only a couple places there where the fishermen used to go eat."
This year, the longtime Florida resident will take his shot at trying to outduel Dudley and the other Tour stalwarts. He doesn't expect to set the world on fire right away.
"My goals are going to be real humble. I want to go out and have fun, and I don't want to put pressure on myself about anything else. If I could make a couple of checks and maybe make a Top 10 and get into contention to win one time, that would be fantastic.
"Winning the Rookie of the Year would be great and making the Forrest Wood Cup would be out of control, but I'm doing it more for the experience and to have fun."
Change of Fortune?
The 36-year-old Prouty has competed in the Bassmaster Opens – primarily on the Southern circuit – since 2009, with a best finish of 13th at the Kissimmee Chain in 2011. He's seen other opportunities for high finishes go awry due either to mechanical issues (he once had two trolling motors fail him in the same event) or poor execution.
He'll keep his "day job" throughout this year – he's a general manager for a Dallas-based company that does residential and commercial restoration in the wake of major storms and other disasters. The firm, Affiliated Companies, will be his primary sponsor.
He plans to do some info-sharing with good pal John Cox, who's fished 2 seasons at the Tour level and won the Red River event in 2011. Like many Floridians, his specialties are flipping and sight-fishing, and admits that water deeper than about 15 feet is pretty much a mystery to him.
When he looks at the Tour schedule, he thinks (or perhaps hopes) that he'll have to fish totally outside of his element at just one event.
"I'm more worried about Eufaula than any other tournament," he said. "That's probably going to be a completely offshore deal at the end of May, so I'll definitely spend some time there before it goes off-limits."
Lots of Fun Down Under
Prouty recently spend nearly 2 weeks in Australia and, despite traveling nearly 4,000 miles on the ground during that period, he got to fish each day. He caught 16 different species that were new to him.
He said the most interesting of those was the Murray cod, a freshwater predator that can attain a length of over 6 feet and a weight well into triple-digits. He said it's sort of the Southern Hemisphere's equivalent to the muskie as it's known as "the fish of 3,000 casts."
"I got one on a topwater and some on spinnerbaits, and the biggest one was in the 20s (pounds). They look kind of like a combination of a walleye and a snakehead with a leopard pattern. They're beautiful fish until they get really big, and then they just look like toads."
The trip came about through his affiliation with Young Guns Fishing Adventures, a major Australian outfitter and operator of fishing schools run by a husband-and-wife team. He made their acquaintance on Facebook and the relationship grew from there.
The couple, Todd and Melanie Young, also run a program called Angling for a Future. It's a 6-week course designed to prepare at-risk youths in their late teens for jobs in the Australian fishing industry. Most end up serving as captain's mates or deckhands on recreational fishing boats and others go to work in bait shops.
Prouty often speaks to groups of the students via Skype, telling them what goes on at the highest levels of competitive fishing here in the U.S.
"I'm really looking forward to getting something like that off the ground over here," he said. "The hardest part is just figuring out how to do it."
> In addition to Affiliated Companies, Prouty's sponsor list includes Seaguar, Lowrance, Navionics, Topwater Clothing, Yank'em Jigs, Yo-Zuri, Mercury, St. Croix, Optima Batteries, Gambler Lures and Toho Marine Center.