Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 09/13/2017

Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos courtesy of Jake Whitaker - college photos by Matt Pangrac

Moore, OK - The migration of talented collegiate anglers to the Bassmaster Elite Series and FLW Tour has been well documented.  

In August, The BASS ZONE ran a feature story about a group of five young professional anglers from Alabama who fished at the collegiate level and are now making an impact that the highest level of tournament bass fishing.  To read the story, CLICK HERE.  

Add Jake Whitaker to the list of collegiate anglers with the opportunity to go from taking tests to casting for cash.   The UNC Charlotte graduate (who fished for the 49ers from 2012-2015) recorded a 14th place finish in the final Northern Open of the year last week on Douglas Lake in Tennessee.  He finished in 3rd place overall in the 2017 Bassmater Northern Open point standings, earning an invitation to fish the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series.  

Making the Elite Series was a goal that Whitaker set for himself after a series of impressive finishes at the collegiate level that included winning the 2014 Carhartt College Series National Championship on Chatuge Reservoir with his college partner Andrew Helms.

The following year the duo won the 2015 Carhartt Bassmaster College Classic (CLICK HERE to watch The COLLEGE BASS ZONE’S highlight video of the tournament), and the also finished in the top five at the 2015 Carhartt College Series National Championship.  

“After winning the college national championship and going to the bracket two years in a row, I thought that I should give myself a couple years to try and qualify (for the Elite Series),” said Whitaker, who graduated with a civil engineering degree.  “I knew that if the fishing thing didn’t work out, I had a solid degree to fall back on.”

Whitaker first fished the Northern Opens in 2016 with limited success.  He finished in 126th on Oneida and 72nd on the James River.  “That was my first time going to those lakes, so I really didn’t expect myself to do well,” he admitted.  “I wanted to familiarize myself with the format of the Opens and with those fisheries, because they usually go back to the same places each year,” he explained.

Whitaker’s 2016 preparation paid off this year, as the Northern Opens returned to both Oneida and the James River.  The third stop of the series on Douglas Lake was just an hour-and-a-half from his home.  “I knew that if it was going to happen, I thought this could be the year,” Whitaker stated.  

The 25-year-old said that the fact he has qualified for the 2018 Elite Series hasn’t really sunk in yet.  “I know what’s going on, but just to see my name on the Northern Open AOY standings right there with guys like Wesley Strader and Chad Pipkens is pretty cool.  I don’t like to brag,  but I’m definitely proud of myself and the way that I fished.”

He said that he’s committed to fishing the Elite Series in 2018, but he knows that he has a lot of work in the coming months when it comes to securing sponsorship and preparing himself both on and off the water to compete at the Elite Series level.  “I’ve talked with some professional anglers, and they’ve told me to concentrate on fishing, do well at fishing, and then the sponsor stuff will come.  I have some current sponsors, but I’ve really just been focused on fishing 100%.  Now is the time that I really have to dig deep and start focusing on the sponsorship process.  I have some things in the works, so we’ll see how it turns out.”  

Whitaker started fishing team tournaments with his dad in his early teens, but he said that his experience at the college level played a huge role in his development as an angler.  When he won the 2014 Carhartt College Series Championship with Helms, the field included the likes of current Forrest Wood Cup Champion Justin Atkins, FLW Tour pro Austin Felix, and Elite Series pros Brett Preuett and John Hunter.  

“Knowing that I competed against those guys in the past and held my own, really showed me that I had what it took and that I just needed the breaks to get there,” he explained.   Having a camera in his boat during the national championships and bracket challenges in both 2014 and 2015 also gave Whitaker a chance to adjust to fishing under pressure.

Outside of his Bassmaster Open and collegiate tournament experience, Whitaker is a veteran at the FLW BFL level.  He began fishing BFL’s as a teenager, and has fished over 30 tournaments, qualifying for five regionals.  “I’ve worked myself up the ladder, and I definitely think that the process has helped.”  

Whitaker said that he’s predominantly a shallow water fisherman, most comfortable with a jig, crankbait, or topwater in his hand.  “I still have a lot to learn about bass fishing, but I think that I’ll be OK,” he concluded.