By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
Since he was 13 years old, growing up in a country devoid of largemouth, smallmouth or spotted bass, Carl Jocumsen pined to fish the Bassmaster Classic one day.
There wasn't a single professional angler in Australia at the time, yet Jocumsen invested in himself. At age 15, when a local tackle shop turned him down for a job, he offered to work for free and started dusting the shelves until he began getting paid a year later. That commenced a 10-year gig in which he perfected knot-tying, made contacts and learned trade tricks. The goal was to save money for a boat and truck and to fish every tournament possible.
He amassed $60,000 in winnings in his native country and is the all-time leading money-earner, more than doubling the amount of the second-place, even though he hasn’t fished competitively in Australia in 10 years.
In 2009, he sold most of his belongings to fish the WON Bass U.S. Open as a co-angler. With a suitcase full of tackle and one carrying clothes, and a rod tube over his shoulder, he prayed that his bank account would hold up for a while. Gary Boyd, a WON BASS angler, allowed Jocumsen to stay at his house in California, where he tried to put a dent in his learning curve on lakes like Havasu, Castaic and the California Delta. Jocumsen learned to dropshot and throw a jig, and he learned to drive.
After flying back and forth to Australia four times, every 89 days to satisfy the American Visa requirements, 75 percent of his savings was eroded. Coupled with the fact that his Aussie money only paid 66 cents on the dollar, times got tough.
In 2015, he became the first Australian to qualify for the Elite Series. He was relegated out on points two years later.
“I had to dig deep to see if I wanted this,” Jocumsen said. “It was the most uneasy time of my entire life. I spent many days in my boat crying, not knowing if I should get on a plane and fly home to see my family, not knowing what the next day would bring. I got dragged through the dirt and kicked out the other side.”
Digging in the Dirt
Jocumsen dusted himself off and fished the FLW Tour and all the Bassmaster Opens, using the latter to requalify for the Elites in 2018.
At the time, Gene Eisenmann owned HydroWave. The two explored branching into the Australian market using custom sounds and struck a friendship. Jocumsen slept on a single mattress in a work shed where he kept his boat and lived in Dallas for several years.
He clawed his way back to the Elites, only to see the mentors and heroes he wanted to compete against leave for the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour. In September 2019, Jocumsen became an Elite Series champion on Lake Tenkiller in Oklahoma.
Jocumsen wasn’t lighting the trail on fire that year. As many anglers tried to save points to make the Classic, Jocumsen "swung for the fence", finding an offshore pattern that few anglers discovered.
“That’s when my life turned around,” Jocumsen said. “I started to feel comfortable with who I was, where I was, and what I was doing. It took 8 or 9 years to get some groove going. Before that, I was winging it.”
He qualified for the 2024 Classic, which will be his second straight, and he’s feeling good.
“I’ve changed a lot. I have the same big dreams and goals. I have one of the most incredible wives I ever could have imagined, and now I have this beautiful daughter. I cannot believe what I have right now – everything I am truly grateful for,” said Jocumsen.
Jocumsen professes that meeting Kayla Palaniuk (cousin of fellow Elite Series pro Brandon Palaniuk) in 2015 changed his life. She stuck by him through the tears, the lean years and some potent doses of bad luck.
Despite having been with her since 2019, when it came time to upgrade his 2011 O-1 Visa, which he could have just changed to a Green Card, he wanted to get it because he married her, not because he had to.
Jocumsen likened the experience to something that could be seen in a movie.
“We did interviews with people in separate rooms, showed photos of holidays we’ve had together, and had testimonials from 10 different people and affidavits. Paperwork through the roof and months and months of gathering,” Jocumsen said. Then, they had to do it again in 2021.
Though he figures they should be set for 10 years, the process served as a nightmarish experience. “I had several times where I didn’t want to return because I didn’t want to deal with the paperwork,” said Jocumsen.
Jocumsen loves living in the United States.
“Nothing worth having is ever easy,” he said.
That’s why he hunts elk in the mountains and runs long distances.
“I like that it is tough to make it. When things are tough, the goal is worth it”.
Jocsumsen estimates that over the past 12 years, he’s spent over $40,000 in VISA and legal fees. Ever the optimist, he parallels the experience to an apprenticeship in college working toward a degree. He’s glad he never gave up because the money would have been gone.
“I don’t know how I got through it,” he said.
Embrace the Haters
Never doubt what drives Jocumsen when he stumbles.
“I had so many people over my life tell me I was never going to be anything, do anything, and if I kept fishing, I would amount to nothing. Every time, I thought I would turn it around. If I stopped now, they would win, and the negative people in my life would win. I couldn’t let that happen – I had to prove them wrong,” Jocumsen said.
Today, he’s flipped his perspective; the "peanut gallery" is of no concern to him.
“At the time, as I proved them wrong, I had the reverse happen. All these people support me, tell me I can do it, and want me to do good. I do it for them now. It’s funny how life goes. At the start, you need those people who say you can’t do it. That’s the only thing that got me up at 4 a.m. every morning to fight for it, and I knew if I didn’t, those people would win”.
Enter the Warrior
Jocumsen had a great beginning and end to last season, but the middle dealt some disappointing results. In the past, Joscumsen’s mental game had been suspect. He was known as having the best plan during practice, only to spin out during the tournament. Forget such nonsense; the blue trophy from Tenkiller seemed to have silenced his panic button.
“There is nothing worse than not having confidence in yourself. That’s where all the learning comes from,” he said.
Underachieving still leaves an impression on him, but it's less impactful than before.
“It should hurt, you lost, you made that decision. If it doesn’t hurt, you don’t want it as bad as I want it. I want it more than anyone I know. What comes with that is the sting and the pain of losing. I channelled that energy after one day into what I did wrong, how I could do better, and what I could do at the next one,” he said. “If I lose, I can come back the next week and win or have a great event”.
After a day or two, he’s over the miscues and getting better at shelving his ego.
“It’s stupid energy you are wasting,” Jocumsen said.