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ORANGE PARK - The old fashion days of grabbing a fishing rod and reel, a bag of worms and getting dad to take him to a pond near the Peoria Road Cemetery for a day on the water in his canoe is now …
ORANGE PARK - The old fashion days of grabbing a fishing rod and reel, a bag of worms and getting dad to take him to a pond near the Peoria Road Cemetery for a day on the water in his canoe is now just a memory for one Orange Park High graduate, though now Cole Hewett’s life may be about to change quickly.
“It’s very technical now and very much a business that the competitors can be cut-throat with,” said Hewett, 24, and now a ranked professional bass fisherman in the Major League Fishing (MLF) ranks. “It’s still all about getting the most and biggest fish out there, but the money helps.”
Hewett, a mid-pack ranked bass fisherman national wide (89th overall), got his first tournament paycheck last week with a seventh place finish for $17,000 at the MLF Pro Circuit Tournament event held in Richmond, Va, on the James River.
Hewett had one of his best four day tournament finishes with a surprising jump from 73rd place after day one to sixth place after day two to a top 10 cut after day three to make the final day’s lineup got him his seventh place finish.
“It’s been a progression ever since I started fishing with my dad at about 13 years old (at Whitey’s Fish Camp in a Bassing for Babies Tournament),” said Hewett, who fished all the time locally while at Orange Park High, then expanded to the University of Central Florida fish team then entered the MFL Toyota Series for some pre-professional experience before embarking as a pro just recently. “My dad, Don, has been a part of the experience from the very beginning.”
With his top 10 finish in Virginia, Hewett’s $17,000 paycheck made his annual earning to nearly $50,000 with an eye on one of those $100,000 top prize checks in the future.
“One of the things that changed was that the TV cameras chose me to be the one they followed at the tournament,” said Hewett. “In the pro fishing world, that’s a big deal for the sponsors and the social media part of the business end of it.”
In his very first pro tournament, Hewett took second, earned $6,000 and nearly won himself a brand new boat.
“The entry fees are sometimes up to $5,000 so the $6,000 just about covers that, but we missed the boat by a pound,” said Hewett. “The move to the pro circuit is about making that commitment to possibly spending $20-$30,000 before making any money.”
For Don Hewett, a successful dirt car racing driver in the area, his son’s commitment to the craft of fishing is the key.
“Just like any sport or profession, it’s about how much time are you willing to put in to get better,” said Don Hewett. “Cole has been dedicated since his high school days to do this as a professional and he has been willing to put the time in to keep getting better.”
Hewett was miked up for the James River experience and was a little nervous because he was transporting about $100,000 worth of camera equipment and crew on the James River.
“The camera guy told me that his equipment was worth that and that he wasn’t supposed to return home unless he had the camera,” said Don Hewett. “Those boats zip around pretty good on the water and there is not a lot of room to move around, but having them be on Cole’s boat was a good first step into moving his professional career.”
Hewett noted that the filming was to be broadcast on the national TV; Outdoor channel and NBC Sports, in the upcoming weeks as part of the MLF pro circuit coverage.
“One of the aspects of the pro fish world is the social media following which is something I’m just now grasping and trying to find ways to expand by brand sort of speak,” said Hewett. “The fishing itself is exciting on the boat and in the competition, but spectators can’t sit in a stadium and watch like a football game so it’s up to us to generate the following. A lot of my prize money goes to learn and implement more of that social media following.”
Hewett quickly learned in his first money-making endeavor as a pro that split second decisions are the difference between $17,000 and $100,000.
“It’s all about calculating a ton of information and making a decision to either move to a different spot or stick,” said Hewett. “I have four underwater monitors on my boat that I basically am video-screen fishing as I can see the fish, the obstacles, my bait on the line’s position and can monitor the tide pattern of the water to decide if the fish are going to be here or over there.”
Hewett noted that the underwater monitors is clearly just a professional investment.
“I’m not going to get beat because I don’t have the technology to maximize by fishing,” said Hewett. “Sometimes, though, it’s frustrating because with all that technology, sometimes the fish just don’t bite. Then a guy follows you, in the same spot, same bait and bags a five pounder.”
Hewett’s next tournament is an MLF Pro Circuit event in Plattsburgh, NY, on Lake Champlain July 29-Aug. 1.
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