Jay Yelas – From Cheeseballs to Classic Winner

Jay Yelas ICAST 2014. Photo Brenda Serrano.

Jay Yelas ICAST 2014. Photo Brenda Serrano.

Around the 1988 time frame I was still working at the tackle shop and going to college. Although I wasn’t fishing, I kept up on what was happening on the tournament scene from the anglers who came into the shop. What happened in ’88 seemed to be a changing of the guard. Long time western pros such as Don Iovino, Bobby Garland, Fred Ward and Larry Hopper had a new angler to contend with – a kid just out of college named Jay Yelas.

I vividly remember some of the local anglers coming into the shop who fished the Red Man circuit in the day – guys that knew “The River Lakes” like the back of their hand. They were donating entry fees to Yelas’ graduate studies – his field of study being professional bass fisherman.

I remember comments like; “There’s this new kid that just showed up and he’s kicking everyone’s butt.”

“He fishes every day, sleeps in his van and only eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

“I don’t know where he came from but he belongs on the Bassmaster Tour, not here fishing an amateur circuit like Red Man.”

That first year Yelas would make the Red Man Tournament of Champions in Hawaii and also qualify for the Red Man all-American.

The Southwestern anglers would have their wishes answered in 1989 when Yelas embarked on the Bassmaster part of his dream. From there he’d never look back.

Jay Yelas to me is a hometown hero. We grew up fishing the same lake in southern California and knew many of the same people. Unfortunately, our paths just never crossed until I began writing. At ICAST a couple weeks ago we ran into each other and talked about his early years of competition. The outcome from that discussion is the video below.