ESPY Winner and Pro Angler – Jay Yelas

Jay Yelas is the second fisherman to win the Best Outdoor Sports Athlete ESPY category since it debuted back in 2002. The only other fisherman to win one is Kevin Van Dam. Listen as Jay explains what he did to win the ESPY, what the experience was like, and what his life is like after winning the ESPY. We jump into a bunch of sidebar conversations about Jay’s ESPY experience and much more. Jay is now the Executive Director at C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation.


Greetings everyone, this is Eric Stewart from Fishing Fanatics and I’m joined today with an
awesome guest, Jay Yelles. Jay is one of the fishing’s most decorated anglers with 25 years
of experience as a professional fisherman and winner of the 2002 Bassmaster Classic and 2003
Angler of the Year. He also received in 2003 an SB for the most outstanding outdoor athlete
and Angler of the Year twice for FLW.
So Jay’s experience that he has is absolutely outstanding.
I was checking out some of the things that he does,
but probably one of the most impactful things that he does now
is something that we like to call Cast for Kids Foundation.
And this foundation is awesome,
and I’ll let Jay kind of talk about that
a little bit later on the podcast.
But how you doing, Jay?

  • Good, I’m glad to be here.
    Thanks for having me.
  • Absolutely, man.
    Thanks for signing up and doing this with me today.
    And what I’d like starting off, Jay,
    is just tell me about your story about how you got
    in professional bass fishing.
    ‘Cause I know it’s one of those things where,
    you know, you might’ve grown up with your family
    and kind of like fishing there.
    And then you might’ve tried your hand
    at some professional tournaments,
    but I just wanna hear your point of view,
    like what helps you get to where you are today?
  • Yeah, you’re right.
    That’s kind of how it started.
    I started fishing in high school with a friend
    and family members, my dad and stuff.
    And then when I got in college, I went to Oregon State
    And that’s when I kind of caught the vision to try to,
    my hand at being a professional bass fisherman.
    Back in the mid 80s and we, you know,
    back then there wasn’t any college fishing like you have now.
    It’s totally different world today,
    but that’s, so I graduated in 87
    and then I finished tournament, it’s all through college.
    I didn’t really get into bass tournaments
    I was in college.
    In high school, I think I finished one tournament
    all of high school. But I’ve fished a lot on the weekends in high school, but in college,
    I started fishing tournaments, the just team tournaments around in my home state. And then
    after I graduated, I started my hand that tried fishing regionally, all the big tournaments
    in the West. And I did that for a couple of years with success, you know, fishing California,
    Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Nevada, all out west.
    And then did that for a couple of years with some good success.
    This is like an 88, 89 fish.
    My first Bassmaster in 89.
    And then I started fishing the Bassmaster circuit back.
    My first year was the 89, 90 tournament season.
    And back then they used to start them in September and then fish all through the winter and
    the final event would be in May and then the classic would be in the summer.
    But it’s a different schedule now.
    But yeah, so that’s kind of, you know, I was, that’s how I got going and it has a good
    bit of success and won some tournaments at each level before I tried moving up to the
    next level.
    Who are some of the people?
    Um, because I know there’s a lot of people that probably helped you along the way, but
    just like key people that kind of helped you kind of stay on track and as you were growing
    and as you were going through each level, who were like those people that kind of helped
    you out?
    Well, you need a lot of help because it’s a very competitive, tough way to go.
    You know, so my wife Jill, she was a huge support base all the time and she traveled
    with me a lot before we started our family.
    And, you know, my parents are always big believers that I can do.
    I had a mentor named Bill Cedar who was my taught me how to fish basically when I was
    in high school.
    He was a retired gentleman, just an old friend.
    He was always giving me advice and tips and stuff.
    But ultimately it’s a solo sport.
    So you don’t have a coach or teammates.
    It’s just you.
    So you have to really believe in yourself and that you can be successful and work super
    hard at it, you know, to make your dream become a reality. And that’s, you know, that’s how I was
    back in those days. I treated bass fishing like I was preparing for an Olympic sport. You know,
    as far as just a singular focus. And that’s all I did. I bass-bished and I drove to the next place
    I was going to fish and I ate and I slept. And that’s it. Then be like, yeah, you know, what I
    Envision an athlete what their lifestyle would be like training for an upcoming Olympics event
    And so I you know I didn’t stay that way my whole career 35 years, but when I was a kid
    That’s that’s how I got into it. So it’s tremendous amount of hard work, but
    You know God really blessed me too with a lot of success early on and I was able to capitalize on that
    Got a lot of confidence that after getting some success and got some sponsors
    that’s really a huge deal. It’s getting some endorsements because you can’t do it on make a
    living just on your winnings. You need to because you have good years and lean years on your winning.
    So you’ve got to have some sponsors to help you through. But yeah, this has been a fun time.
    Absolutely, man. What’s the biggest difference from starting out in like the 80s and coming to
    it now where you just retired last year, which congratulations on retirement.
    The differences are incredible Eric.
    We, um, I mean, just from the boats to the industry and all the tackle that we used.
    I mean, you know, that’s, and then just on that side, it’s a huge difference.
    And then the, the industry’s grown a good bit back then.
    There was just one pro circuit, you know, it was just bass.
    This is, I started before FLW even started and they started in 96.
    I started my career in 87.
    So, it was totally different.
    We had electronics were just a flashers.
    We had the Lawrence X16 paper graph was our big new technology that came on the scene
    like in the late ’80s.
    And things, you know, those have evolved so much over the years.
    It’s just amazing.
    But I think the fish also, besides the equipment, the fish have changed a little bit because
    they have had so much intelligent pressure that most of the fish in our public lakes
    have been caught now several times in their lives.
    So it’s a little bit different game when you’re trying to catch a bass that’s been caught
    six times in the last couple years.
    It’s a lot to, you know, back in the 80s and 90s, our lakes didn’t have as much intelligent
    of people that fish, but they all just went down the bank throwing a spinner bait or a rattle trap.
    That’s how all the locals fish. And now,
    gosh, the average locals as good as the top pros were, you know, 10, 15 years ago.
    But with catch and release, it keeps our fisheries going and the fish are there. They’re just,
    in fact, live our lakes are just loaded with bass, but they’re just very wary because they’ve
    all been caught several times. So there’s the games changed in that regard because the fish
    have changed a little bit and techniques and stuff are all to keep up with them.
    But it’s yeah, it’s super fun. Jay, it’s interesting you hit on that point where it’s like
    over pressured fish because I would always hear stories about like, you know, my dad’s fish
    stories when he would go out in the local reservoir and throw his bait in there and he would come
    out of there with like two, five pounders and I would go to that same reservoir nowadays and
    and I’m catching like dinks.
    So it’s interesting to see like some truth in that
    or the guy that’s been in for 35 years.
  • Oh yeah.
  • Kind of what he’s seen.
  • Yeah, they, Bass are super aggressive by nature
    and you go to a lake or a pond
    that they’ve never been seen allure before.
    Oh my gosh, they’ll jump over anything you throw in there.
    And eventually they get caught and they don’t like it
    and caught so they get a little more wary
    and a little more reserved, you might say,
    and just running out and eating the first artificial bait they see.
    But we keep people keep inventing new ways to fool them.
    And it’s a lot of fun trying to do that.
    It’s an amazing fishery because if you catch them and let them go,
    they’re still in there to spawn and make babies.
    And the fish are there.
    You just don’t get a lot of bite.
    You don’t get as many bites on the heavily-fished public lakes,
    Lake Fork and Lake Gunnersville and places like that that get you have hundreds of boats on them every day of the year
    Fishing catching those fish and they catch and release there’s a pressure still there
    They’ve just been caught so many times and but when you get around a bath right when he’s beating
    There’s always little windows during every day where baths are catchable and
    Do you just don’t get as many bites, but you there’s still out there to be caught?
    Absolutely absolutely. I’m not saying I do any illegal fishing by any means, but I’ve definitely fished a couple places where
    They don’t see many lures. I should say and yeah, it’s crazy. You throw anything at them and they bite it
    That’s fun. That’s where most people start their bass fishing
    in that environment where it’s on fishing or fishing golf courses or whatever and
    They’re going to catch because they are aggressive.
    They’ll bite on top in every, you know, different ways.
    And there are, there’s a reason the bass of the number one sport fish in the country.
    They’re just a lot of fun.
    And they live and they live in all states except Alaska.
    So they’re everywhere.
    Everyone can kind of connect to the bass fishing.
    But Jay, another thing I just wanted to point out here is what, what’s it like in 2003 when
    you’re in an SB?
    Oh, that was awesome.
    So I got stories from that.
    So yeah, I did.
    I got an SP for the best outdoor athlete.
    So they flew at the time I lived in Texas
    and I guess ESPN flew my wife and I out first class
    to Hollywood where they had the SP
    and they put us up this hotel.
    And I remember, I hope I get this story right.
    I haven’t told it in a while,
    They told us to be in the lobby at like 4 p.m.
    because our limo would be right going to the Kodak theater there.
    Where’s where they had the awards and they were going to see this and all that.
    And so I took my time getting ready and delayed a little bit too much.
    And by the time I it was time to really get ready, I realized I’d forgotten my dress shirt.
    I brought a suit.
    I mean, I want to have bought a suit, you know, and a nice one.
    But for some reason I left my dress shirt at home
    and it was, anyway, that was crazy.
    So I was running all over Hollywood,
    trying to find a dress shirt right the last minute and I did.
    But it was, so I got to get there
    and they had this red carpet walk going into the Kodak Theater
    and then there’s a tall, chain link fence on each side
    of the red carpet to keep the fans out away.
    and there’s lots of fans on each side.
    And then all these guys, all these amazing athletes
    are getting introduced, you know,
    and right before, and then, so it was almost my turn,
    right before me, you know, Emmett Smith,
    who used to be running back for the Dallas Cowboys,
    you know, everybody’s cheering real loud at you
    and for all those guys,
    ’cause they’re all big name athletes
    and then they say, okay, now up for the outdoor athlete
    of those years, Jay Yellis, and everybody’s like,
    You could have, you know, in some of you know, Los Angeles, right?
    Nobody knows about bass fishing back there.
    So anyway, it was, we got to go in there and then I ended up winning that award that night.
    It was, that was incredible.
    It was a great memory and, and I still got it on the, on the old mantle at the house.
    But yeah, I think only two fishermen ever did win that.
    I think Van Dam wanted like in maybe the year before or a couple years before I did.
    And so that was a tremendous honor.
  • Yeah, that’s right.
  • I was thinking they had a big after party,
    you know, that I get to meet all these famous athletes.
    And that was an awesome experience.
    I loved it, great memory.
  • Who’s the coolest athlete you met from that?
  • Serena Williams, she was just,
    I mean, I, she, I,
    her forearms are like, like most men’s thighs.
    She is so incredibly strong.
    You can’t see that on TV watching her play tennis,
    but I mean, that was back in her prime.
    I mean, back in ’03, 20 years ago.
    But yeah, he was, we were stuck in the elevator
    for a little bit with her, my wife and I were.
    And she was nice.
    And I was just amazed at how built she was.
    I never been a close to a lady professional tennis player
    before, but man, she was strong. That’s why she was so good for so long. But yeah, I mean, Tom Brady was there. We got to talk to him and just, I don’t know, there was a bunch of a bunch of football and, you know, players and basketball golf, all tennis stars, all kinds of stuff.
    And then there was me.
  • You’re all saying you’re saying,
    you represent the future.
  • You represent the future.
  • Yeah.
  • I love it.
    I love it, guys.
    But let’s switch gears to your foundation,
    the Cast for Kids Foundation.
    Why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit
    about what you guys got going on with that foundation,
    what you guys do?
  • Yeah, sure.
    Well, the Cast for Kids Foundation,
    we exist to enrich the lives of children with special needs.
    and we take on fishing.
    We put on fishing events,
    give them an opportunity to go fishing,
    but we really celebrate the kids
    after their fishing is done.
    We have lunch for everybody,
    and award ceremony, everybody.
    All the kids get a plaque with their photo in it,
    and everybody cheers real loud for them,
    and they just love it.
    So it’s, we’re in our 32nd year.
    I did the cast for kids foundation,
    started in ’91, and I didn’t start it.
    I was on the board of directors for 10 years,
    and then the founder of it retired.
    And so I transitioned from being a board member
    to running it on a daily basis.
    And I’ve been doing that since 2015.
    So we’ve been growing, adding events all around the country.
    And we have on our website is
    And we have an event map on there.
    We’ve got events all over from coast to coast.
    And we’re always looking for folks to come out volunteer,
    to take a child fishing.
    Some of our events are boating events,
    some are shore fishing events,
    but at all those events we need volunteers
    to work with the kids and help them catch fish.
    And most of the time we cut the volunteers,
    we find come out to be a blessing to the kids
    and help them, but they end up being the ones
    that get the most out of it,
    just because it’s so fun to share your time
    with some of these awesome kids
    and put a smile on their face
    and get a big hug from them after, at the end of the day.
    So that’s what we do.
    And yeah, or if anybody’s listening to Hads,
    it’s not a special needs child
    that would never been fishing
    or they might want to try it.
    Just have them sign up.
    It’s the events, they’re totally free to all the kids.
    So then you can register online
    for all the events at our website or through our website.
    So that’s, yeah, it’s super fun.
    And we have events like I say all over America.
    And I think Texas has more events than any other state,
    but we’ve got them from coast to coast and north to south.
    And it’s pretty fun.
  • And Jane, it’s awesome.
    And the links will be in the bio
    for the Casprit Kids Foundation.
    If you guys wanna go check it out,
    donate, get involved, all that good stuff.
    It’s a great foundation.
    And it’s awesome.
    you guys do for sure. Yeah, I love it. It’s just, it’s good to give back. You know, I got to
    bless the 35 year careers of professional bass fishermen and how it’s something I’m passionate
    about is giving these kids an opportunity to go and enjoy it. And especially in these kids,
    just never, they don’t ever have nothing designed just for them to go do. And there’s a lot of,
    I heard, Loree, that about 17% of the population has some disability or at least some disability.
    And so it’s a very, there’s a lot of people in America that have some sort of disability
    or special needs.
    So we love giving those guys gals a chance to go and enjoy a fun day on the water and
    and celebrate them too with a fun lunch and awards ceremony.
    It’s a good time, I love doing it.
  • I love it, I love it.
    All right Jay, let’s wrap it up here.
    I always like asking everyone,
    35 year career, bass fishing hall of fame and SB.
    What is your PB, large mouth bass and small mouth bass?
  • Right, well, great question.
    My biggest large mouth was 11 pounds, 11 ounces.
    I caught it at late tow in a batch master tournament in 2001.
    It was back to the year that Dean Rojas got that time
    at all time, that’s master record.
    He had like a 45 pound limit.
    And the second day of that tournament,
    I had a 36 pound limit, which was including an 11, 11.
    And yeah, and the small mouth,
    my biggest small mouth was like 512.
    I’ve never did catch a six pound small mouth,
    my old career, not even fun fishing.
    And I caught that five pounder on the St. Lawrence River.
    They actually had a Baffmaster tournament.
    I like catching them in tournaments.
    But anyway, I caught that in 2019
    and an elite series on the St. Lawrence River.
    So yeah, those are some dandies.
    And, but I never, I was always surprised me
    that I never did catch a six pound smallmouth
    than all my fishing.
    But we’ve got some big smallmouth out here in the northwest.
    I need to head over to Idaho and chase some of those giant
    smallies they catch.
    They catch pretty regularly.
    It’s like six, seven pounds, eight pounds, smallmouth
    over there, and some of those lakes.
    So anyway–
    That’s the last thing you need for the trophy
    six shelf to just put on there.
    I love it.
    Awesome, Jay.
    I appreciate it.
    So real quick.
    For sure.
    Just to wrap up here.
    Where can people find you can contact with you and then also check out the um,
    the cast for kids foundation.
    You already see the website.
    Might as well.
    Well, my email is J.
    Why that cast for kids.
    And my phone numbers on there too.
    You can just go through our cast for kids website and, uh, yeah,
    if anybody’s interested in starting an event in their community for kids
    with special needs, heck, get in touch with us.
    So that’s what we do at the foundation.
    We provide leadership to help local communities
    put on an event and we were for the kids in those communities.
    We rely on a lot of local volunteers in the area too.
    And we work with the volunteers to kind of help them
    put on an event.
    So it’s super fun and we’d love to get some more events going.
    So give us a call or send me an email.
    We’ll do it.
  • Awesome.
  • Jay, I love it.
    Thanks for coming on here.
    Maybe I’m down in the road.
    We’ll have you on for another episode.
    Yeah, that’d be great, Eric.
    Thank you.
    Appreciate the time you got it.
    You just listened to the Fishing Fanatics Podcast with your host Eric Stewart.
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