While some people who fish love to swap exaggerated stories of the ones that got away, AJ Lincoln will always be able to boast about the weekend when he and a partner were the best bass fishers in the country.
Lincoln, a senior construction management major, teamed with fellow Omaha native Garrett Woockman to win the National Bass Anglers Association Championship April 7-9 at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri. They brought home more than $42,000 in cash and prizes, including a nearly 20-foot, red bass boat valued at nearly $38,000.
"In the bass community, Garrett and me, we're really young – the youngest team to ever win the national championship and also the only team from Nebraska to ever win it. It's pretty meaningful to us to be able to do that," said Lincoln, who turns 27 May 13, the same day he's graduating.
"Some days it all just works out, and some days it doesn't. It's something you've just got to take with a grain of salt and just keep fishing because one day things will go your way when it matters."
Lincoln and Woockman didn't have to worry about another team turning in one big fish and bumping them out of first place. They turned in the maximum of five fish each day; the total weight of those fish – 51 pounds, 15 ounces – was more than seven pounds greater than the second-place team's total.
Those who compete in these tournaments prepare by scouting the competition lake days and weeks beforehand for the top locations and learning where the fish are and which baits might work best.
Their success, Lincoln said, was built on a lucky find in practice based on a stroke of misfortune – a malfunctioning trolling motor on his 13-year-old, 21-foot fiberglass Triton.
"We were trying to fix that motor and that's when I saw these bass coming up and feeding on schools of shad right next to the dock. I was just kind of messing around and walked over there and pitched my bait in there and caught two of the biggest fish right there off the dock," Lincoln said.
"That's when it clicked in our head that the big fish are out in the middle of the lake chasing shad, not up (in the) shallow where we thought they'd be."
That led Lincoln and Woockman to fishing in a cove, mostly without other competitors nearby. They had the third-best haul on Day 1 (16 pounds) and the best totals on Days 2 (17 pounds, 2 ounces) and 3 (18 pounds, 13 ounces).
With all that success in the national tournament, Lincoln said, he's inclined to keep using his current boat. Woockman also has a boat that he wants to keep, so the shiny new one is up for sale.
"We're going to put some of the money into upgrades on my current boat. It's a little bit bigger and handles rougher water better," Lincoln said. "We talked about maybe trying to sell the prize boat and my current boat to get a newer fiberglass boat, but we decided against it. Hopefully, next year we'll win another boat and get a whole fleet started."
Lincoln said he should have more time to work on his "semi-pro" fishing career after graduation next week, but it won't be his only focus.
"I'm planning on getting my LLC, and I've started working for myself, doing contractor work – remodels and stuff like that – since 2020," Lincoln said. "I love being able to make my own schedule, especially with the fishing thing, so that's what I'm going to continue to do."
And in the local fishing community, the national championship has made Lincoln and his partner something close to instant legends.
"The whole thing didn't hit me until a week after, at our first club tournament. It was cool seeing all those guys, and them wanting to talk and hear all the details." Lincoln said. "There's definitely something about fishing and telling stories."
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