By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
As a very young boy living in New Hampshire, Josh Bertrand developed a great love for trout fishing. Bass became his passion after his family moved to Arizona when he was 8, and just 4 years later he caught a 12-pounder that was three times the size of any of any largemouth he'd fooled to that point.
"That's what really got me going," he said. "Before that, I didn't even think fish like that existed. It was absolutely shocking. I couldn't believe my eyes when my dad netted it."
From that day on, he's thought of little besides forging a career for himself in fishing. He began guiding on Phoenix-area lakes immediately after high school and fished every local and regional event he could get into.
In 2011 he tried his hand on the Bassmaster Central Opens, but found little success. Undeterred, he competed on that circuit again this year and captured the points title, which opened the door for him to advance to the Elite Series in 2013.
He wasn't about to turn down the invitation.
"It's been totally surreal, but it's starting to sink in that I'm going to get a chance to go out and fish at that level. I've wanted to fish professionally for a long time.
"I'm not necessarily nervous about it, but I'd say I'm excited and anxious at the same time."
The 23-year-old Bertrand very nearly gained a Bassmaster Classic spot from the Central Opens in addition to his Elite opportunity. He's the guy who was tied with Brent Chapman after 3 days at the brutal Lake Lewisville event in February, forcing a 5-hour fish-off the following day that Chapman won with a single fish – a 6 1/2-pounder.
Under frigid, wind-blown conditions, Bertrand caught a whopping 18-pound sack on day 1. Then he zeroed on day 2 and managed a lone 2 1/2-pounder on day 3.
"It's kind of tough when I look back, knowing what would've happened if I'd caught anything on the second day or just one more fish on the third day. But conditions were just so tough. Only about 5 percent of the lake was fishable – the rest of it was totally blown out – and there were 100 boats stacked in that 5 percent.
"People have asked me, 'Why didn't you just pick up a dropshot and catch a couple of keepers?' That wasn't really an option. The third day was so miserably cold that everything had ice on it. The (air) temperature started out in the mid-20s and the highest it got was the mid-30s. Even at the weigh-in at Bass Pro Shops, it was hardly any warmer."
He followed up that finish with a 19th at Table Rock in late April and a 17th at Fort Gibson in early September to beat out veteran pros Chapman (the Elite Series Angler of the Year) and Tommy Biffle for the points crown. His 13th-place average finish was a far cry – in the right direction – from the 81st he'd averaged the previous year.
"That first year I was out there by myself – I was the only guy from Arizona. This year I had a handful of buddies with me, a couple of other (boaters) and a couple of co-anglers, and I was able to relax a little bit when I was off the water and just have a good time and enjoy it.
"We didn't share practice info to a great extent, but we bounced ideas off of each other. That whole thing helped tremendously – it took a lot of the stress off and made everything that much easier."
Pieces Falling into Place
Having competed against many tour pros the past 2 seasons on the Central Opens, Bertrand doesn't feel like he'll be in over his head from a competitive standpoint on the Elite Series. At the same time, he knows he'll have to be on top of his game in order to hold his own.
"Those guys are on another level as far as finding fish fast and making decisions on the water," he said. "A lot of those places will be new to me, so that'll make it challenging. I'm not as used to finding fish in 2 1/2 or 3 days as they are."
He's still in the process of lining up sponsorship, but said things are progressing well in that regard. As for the Elite schedule, he's most looking forward to taking a crack at the gigantic largemouths that inhabit Falcon in March and the big smallmouths of Lake St. Clair and the St. Lawrence River in August.
"I'm always sitting here in Arizona in 110-degree weather when those Northern tournaments are going on and guys are fishing for smallies where it's 80 degrees. I can't wait for summer to roll around."