By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Bob Downey has been a guy capable of turning in a high finish since he joined the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2020. Each of his first two seasons on the circuit produced a couple of Top-15 showings, but there were also enough bombs to keep his placement in the final Angler of the Year (AOY) points standings down in the 50s.

The 36-year-old Minnesota resident logged a good one right out of the game last year, finishing as the runner-up to John Crews in the season opener at Florida's St. Johns River. He had a stinker a couple of months later (85th at Santee Cooper Lakes), but that was his only major flame-out and he had a strong northern swing to wrap up the campaign.

The result was a 23rd-place finish in the points and his first Bassmaster Classic qualification via the Elite Series. He's fished that event once previously after winning an Open in 2019, placing 27th in the 2020 edition at Lake Guntersville.

"Obviously the good start in Florida was a big key," the ultra-laid back Downey said when asked to sum up his season. "Santee was a bad one, but after that it was a lot better. It's not that I wasn't buckling down earlier, but I was determined to not let that good start go to waste.

"My first two seasons I had a few decent events, but this year I was a little more consistent. Outside of Santee, but worst events were in the 60s rather than the 80s or 90s. When your bad ones are no worse than 70th and you have some good ones, things will end up all right."

The schedule worked in his favor as well, as it concluded on three venues that he's extremely comfortable on. He posted a 10th-place finish at the St. Lawrence River, a 22nd at Lake Oahe and a 15th on the Mississippi River.

"It really lined up in my favor at the end of the year," he said. "I'd spent some time at Oahe the previous summer and before the cutoff and I grew up fishing the Mississippi River and I've fished it quite a bit over the last 10 to 12 years. It was my third time at the St. Lawrence and growing up in the Midwest, I'm comfortable chasing smallmouth.

He had a 21st-place showing at Lake Chickamauga right after the Santee Cooper bomb. He's not a big fan of Tennessee River system when the weather starts to get warm and the fish set up on the deep ledges, but the April derby was in advance of that.

"The Tennessee in the springtime reminds me of home," he said. "The fish movements seem to be pretty similar."

He spent the 10 years between his college graduation and the start of his Elite Series career working as a surety bond agent in the construction industry. He hasn't given that up completely, estimating that his workload is now 25 to 30 percent of what it was when he did it full time.

"It gives me a stream of income on a regular basis," said Downey, who's married by doesn't yet have children. "It's a sales-only job now and it's very flexible on how much time I put in. I've very grateful to still have that because it allows me to fish a little more free and not as stressed.

"The stress I do feel is to not get cut from the Elite Series. It's not as much about not being able to pay the mortgage or the bills back home as it maybe is for some guys. Doing it full-time for 10 years, it helped set up my fishing career so it wasn't as much of a financial burden and not a huge risk. Without that, it would've been more difficult."


> Downey didn't make a pre-practice trip to the Tennessee River at Knoxville, Tenn., which will be the site of this year's Classic. He figures that a visit there for a regular-season Elite Series event in 2021 (he finished 12th) provided him with enough preliminary knowledge. "I wouldn't say I know it extremely well, but I know where the ramp is and where I'm staying and I know my way around. If I hadn't fished that event I probably would've gone down there."