As a kid, Alton Jones used to ride his 10-speed bicycle around the Park Cities, holding a fishing pole in one hand and a tackle box in the other.
Forty years later, he might have ditched the bike, but he’s still holding the tackle box and the fishing rod. And Jones hasn’t lost any of his lifelong passion for a sport in which he’s been a professional for more than a quarter century.
Jones has been one of the top anglers in the world for the past several years, and he reached the pinnacle of the sport in 2008, when he won the Bassmaster Classic in South Carolina (and was subsequently invited to the White House to meet fellow Texan and outdoor enthusiast George W. Bush). He doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon.
“If you’re 10 years into a career in a physical sport, you’re done,” Jones said. “But fishing gives you some longevity.”
Jones credits his maternal grandfather, who taught him to fish at age two. In the years that followed, they fished at lakes in East Texas almost every weekend. Jones began reading Bassmaster magazine when he was 7.
Growing up in the Park Cities, he used to throw bread in the water at Caruth Park to attract carp. And he caught some bass in Turtle Creek. Later, Jones became the president of the field and stream club at Highland Park High School, where he graduated in 1981.
Jones went to Baylor University, where he started a small computer business that earned him enough money to buy his first bass boat. Then he joined the Waco Bass Club, entered his first tournament, and was shut out.
“That really lit a fire under me,” Jones said. “Everybody caught some fish except me. I dropped out of the club after that because I was so discouraged.”
A year later, Jones rejoined the club and had considerably more success. He won some tournaments and became one of the top anglers in the state. After turning pro in 1990, Jones won his first tournament at Toledo Bend along the Texas-Louisiana border.
“I thought it was going to be easy, but I didn’t win another event until 1997,” he said. “There was a steep and long learning curve.”
Still, Jones gradually accumulated sponsors, and scored his biggest victory in 2000 at the Bassmaster Megabucks tournament. His schedule this year includes 10 tournaments in 10 different states, culminating in the Bassmaster Elite Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wisconsin, on Sept. 8.
That amounts to about six months each year that he’s traveling to tournaments and sponsorship events. The rest of the time he’s home with his family in Lorena, Texas.
“I love the competitive aspect of it,” Jones said. “It’s a high-stress game and a grueling game and the odds are stacked against you.”
However, Jones also still appreciates the more relaxing aspects of fishing that endeared the sport to him in the first place.
“We all need hope in our lives, and fishing provides that on every single cast,” he said. “You can get out on the water and leave your troubles behind.”