Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 01/10/2018

Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos courtesy of Jay Brainard

Mille Lacs Lake, MN - After a whirlwind 2015 season in the Bassmaster Central Opens, where Jay Brainard won the points title with finishes of 2nd place on Ross Barnett, 40th place on Ft. Gibson Lake, and 10th place on Table Rock Lake, the former professional bull fighter made the jump to the Elite Series in 2016.  

The highlight of his rookie season at the top level of professional bass fishing came in the first stop of the season on the St. Johns River, where he ended the first day in 30th place with a limit weighing 18-pounds but eventually fell to 55th place overall following Day Two of competition.  

Despite struggling for the remainder of the year, Brainard kept a positive attitude and worked on his game.  He started the 2017 Elite Series season knowing that he would have to turn in a solid performance in order to requalify for the Elite Series the following season.  

After missing the top 50 cut in the first three stops of the 2017 season, Brainard was traveling to begin practice at the fourth stop of the 2017 season on Ross Barnett when he received a call that his wife, Dalli, was about to have their first child.  

“I was literally about to put my blinker on to turn off at Ross Barnett when I got the call,” said Brainard.  “I was really looking forward to that tournament because I had done so well in the Bassmaster Open there in 2015, but when I got the call I immediately headed home to be with my wife.”  Their son, Shooter, is now eight months old.  

With another slow start to the 2017 season and a newborn son, Brainard opted not to return to the Elite Series for the remainder of the 2017 season in order to spend more time with his expanding family and regroup.  He immediately knew that he wanted to fish again at the Elite Series level, but he also knew that he had things to learn in order to be competitive at the highest level.  

“I know that my results didn’t show it, but I still have the goal of competing for an Angler Of the Year title,” he stated.  “That’s just the kind of personality that I have.  I want to be the absolute best that I can be and I learned a lot of things during my year-plus on the Elite Series that I think will benefit me when I make it back to that level.”

Brainard, who has his Captain’s License and guided for bass on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake prior to making the Elite Series, decided to get back in the guiding game in 2017.  “I wanted to guide on a lake where I could put my clients in the position to catch the fish of a lifetime on literally any cast,” Brainard explained.  

He explored his options at Lake Fork, but said that he was looking for something a little bit different.  Although he had never fished the lake before, Brainard set his sights on Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota.  After making a call to a resort on Mille Lacs and speaking with the owner, Brainard was offered a job guiding on arguably the best smallmouth fishery in the United States.  

Brainard said that after being offered the job, one of his first calls was to Rick Pierce, President of Bass Cat boats.  “Rick always has solid advice, and he’s someone in the industry who I really trust.  He told me that I had to take the opportunity and make the most of it.”  

In July of 2017, Brainard and his family headed north to Minnesota.  Having never fished the lake before, Brainard knew that he was taking a calculated risk. “We loaded up the Capri Camper and headed out. I fished for three days on Mille Lacs and the owner of the resort said that I had a guide trip the next day.  I couldn’t believe it, because I thought that I would have at least a couple of weeks to really explore and learn the lake.  It turns out that we caught between 30 and 40 fish on that first trip and the best five smallmouth weighed over 24-pounds.”

The two days following his first guide trip, Brainard fished a tournament on Mille Lacs and came away with victory.  “That’s pretty much the story of how I got started guiding here,” he said with a chuckle.  

When the 2018 bass fishing season opens in Minnesota, Brainard will be guiding full time.  He started his own guide service (, and plans on focusing both on Mille Lacs and the numerous surrounding lakes in the area for smallmouth and largemouth bass.  He also plans on picking up some additional guide trips working with a number of area lodges and resorts.  

“This place is special, man,” stated Brainard, referring to Mille Lacs Lake and the surrounding area.  “I was looking for something very specific.  I wanted to guide on a place where hardcore bass heads could come out and throw a big jig or crankbait and catch giant fish, but I also wanted to guide on a place where I could lock a drop-shot in the hands of a 6-year-old kid and they would have the chance to catch the fish of a lifetime on any cast.”  

Brainard’s ultimate goal is to return to the Elite Series in 2019.  “Me and my wife are all in,” he stated.   After originally planning on fishing both divisions of the Bassmaster Opens in 2018, Brainard said the he took the advice of some of his trusted friends on the Elite Series and decided to fish just the Central Opens in 2018. Through the transition, Brainard's core sponsors have remained by his side including Bass Cat Boats, Raymarine, Strike King, 13 Fishing,  Mercury and Quicksilver, Plenum Medical Gas Solutions, and others.

“I don’t like to sit still,” he concluded.  “I want to get better all the time and keep improving.”