By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Alton Jones' competitive focus for 2015 will be confined to the Bassmaster Elite Series as he attempts to bounce back from a lackluster campaign that resulted in him missing this year's Classic at the venue where he won the sport's signature event 7 years ago. Nevertheless, he'll have a keen interest in all three divisions of the Bassmaster Opens.
His son, Alton Jr., plans to fish all nine Open events in a quest to qualify for the big tour. If he succeeds, the Joneses would become the second father-son duo to compete on the Elite Series, joining Denny and Chad Brauer (2006).
"Little Alton," as he's been known since he started traveling the circuit with his family as a small boy, is fresh out of Baylor University with a degree in marketing. The 22-year-old has fared well in premier Texas events against stacked fields and is eager to reach the level his dad has performed at for nearly a quarter of a century.
The younger Jones will make his triple-A debut next week at Lake Toho. He departed for Florida on Monday.
"He's pumped," Jones Sr. said. "I've never seen somebody work so hard getting ready for a tournament. He wants to do it all on his own – I expected him to go into my boat and pull all my waypoints, but he didn't do it.
"He's confident he can go out and find fish."
Trio of Bombs Spelled Doom
The elder Jones' 2014 season started in fine fashion as he posted finishes of 17th at Lake Seminole and 4th at the St. Johns River. But then came an 85th-place stinker at Table Rock, followed by two similar bombs (97th at Dardanelle and 89th at Cayuga) over the final five derbies.
His go-for-broke style usually produces one finish each year in the bottom quarter of the field, and those have sometimes kept him out of Angler of the Year (AOY) contention down the stretch. Three of them last year will keep him out of the Classic for just the fourth time since he qualified for his first one back in 1996.
"I like to fish my strengths and I always fish to win, and that was probably part of the problem last year, but otherwise I haven't been able to come up with a definitive reason for it," he said. "If you look back over the course of my career, maybe I've stuck to my strengths a little more often than I should have, but it's served me pretty well. Granted some guys have done better than missing four Classics in 20 years, but not too many."
A man of great faith, he's sure there's a preordained purpose behind all of life's struggles, great or small.
"I believe that God has a reason for everything and I trust Him. I may not like it, but I know He has my best interests at heart and it's my job to be the best I can be for him. There's a Bible verse (Romans 8:28) that says, 'And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.' I can put myself in that camp – not making the Classic is encompassed in 'all things,' even though there are trials that are much worse than that."
Phone was Silent
After his Classic non-qualifier status was established following the AOY Championship in mid-September, Jones expected to get info-seeking calls from at least a few anglers who'll be in the Hartwell field. None were forthcoming.
He won the '08 Classic offshore when the water level was considerably below normal for February. It's higher this year, which makes him believe that shallower stuff might be more productive.
"For most of last year I was expecting to qualify for the Classic, so I was following along with what was going on there," he said. "Overall, I think the fishing's probably better now than it was 7 years ago and weights might be up a little bit (over the 49 1/2-pound total he compiled that year). I think there's more fish now and there's better quality, too.
"The field has quite a few guys who are very strong in that region. My sleeper pick is Andy Montgomery – he won the Open at Norman and he's been on a tear and I think he's going to be there at the end. And then Casey Ashley won an FLW tournament there on almost the same week last year."
When his own campaign starts a month later, he said his mindset will be the same as it is at the beginning of every new season. He badly wants to be in the field for the 2016 Classic, but he's not going to fish like that's the only thing that matters.
"The Angler of the Year is always the main goal as long as that's viable – until I've had a finish that's bad enough that that's no longer in the cards. But I'm going to try to win every tournament because I really don't know how to fish for points. That's something I haven't concerned myself with very often.
"All I can really do is just go out and try to catch the most and the biggest fish that I can."