In the more than three decades since he graduated from Oregon State University, Jay Yelas has never worked a day in his chosen field of study, Resource Recreation Management. Instead, just weeks after receiving his diploma, the Yamaha Pro competed in his first major national bass fishing tournament, and he’s been a fulltime professional bass angler ever since.
“I decided during my junior year in high school I wanted to be a professional bass fisherman,” remembers Yelas, 56, “and fortunately, I’ve been able to have a wonderful career.”
That career includes three coveted Angler of the Year titles (two in the FLW™
and one in B.A.S.S.), a Bassmaster Classic®
win (2002), and 24 consecutive years of qualifying for either the Bassmaster Classic®
or the Forrest Wood Cup championship.
What is even more noteworthy is that Yelas, who was born in Hawaii, did not even know about bass fishing until his junior year in high school, after his family had moved to California. He and his friends fished private ponds, golf course water hazards, and small lakes out of an aluminum johnboat, but that was all it took to get the young angler hooked.
“That’s also when I discovered Bassmaster Magazine®
and ‘The BASSMASTERS’ television show,” the Yamaha Pro continues, “and even though my parents insisted I get a college degree, they supported my dream.”
The dream began formally during the summer of 1987 when Yelas entered the U.S. Open bass tournament on Lake Mead, one of the most prestigious fishing events in the United States, and after leading the first day, he finished in sixth place. He won enough money to cover entry fees in several upcoming tournaments, and continued to fish throughout the West for the next two years.
Then in 1989, he entered his first B.A.S.S. competition and finished 12th, a neon sign of things to come. By the time he won the 2002 Bassmaster Classic®
, he had accumulated a remarkable 45 top-10 B.A.S.S. tournament finishes. That same year he also won his first of two FLW™
Angler of the Year titles, and in 2003 he added the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title to his resume. For 24 consecutive years, between 1991 and 2016, the Yamaha Pro qualified for either the Bassmaster Classic®
or the Forrest Wood Cup, sometimes qualifying for both in the same year.
In 2006, Yelas began limiting his competition to the FLW™
circuit, and won another Angler of the Year title in 2007. He returned to B.A.S.S. in 2019 to fish the Bassmaster®
Elite Series, accepting a well-deserved Legends Exemption from qualifying, and already has one top-3 finish.
“Several years ago, because I live in Oregon, I started flying to and from the different tournaments,” he explains. “Each January, I pick up my boat at the Skeeter®
plant in Texas, but the boat rarely goes any further west. After each tournament, I drive to the next tournament location and park the boat at a friend’s home, then fly back to Oregon. “During the off-season, I leave my truck, boat, and all my tackle in Texas. I put less than 10,000 miles on the vehicle each season, while some of the pros drive 50,000 or more miles. It’s a system that works for me and I think it is adding years to my tournament career.”
In 2015, after serving for a decade on the Board of Directors of the C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation™
, he became Executive Director of the organization. He’s in charge of planning fishing outings for special-needs children, and thus far, he’s conducted fishing days in 33 states, giving hundreds of children a fishing experience they probably would never have otherwise had. Yelas truly enjoys the job.
It was no wonder, then, that he was voted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame this past September. Of all the accolades the Yamaha Pro has received during his stellar career, Yelas describes his induction as his greatest honor, the true highlight of his life as a bass tournament pro.
“The Bass Fishing Hall of Fame is larger than the sport itself, and I’m in awe to be honored by the entire bass fishing industry, just for doing something I love doing.”