Virginia High School Senior Looks Forward to Fishing Bassmaster Opens as a Pro

Category: press release

 Jan 13th, 2009 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Jan 13th, 2009 at 12:00 AM

A successful Bassmaster Open co-angler and junior-level BASS Federation Nation competitor, Jelani “JJ” Hennessey, a 17-year-old from Bowling Green, Va., has registered to compete in all nine 2009 Bassmaster Open events.

It’s a heavy commitment for the high school senior, who will turn 18 on Jan. 29. Coincidentally, that’s the first day he will compete as a pro: the Open season begins with the Jan. 29-31 Bassmaster Southern Open on the Harris Chain of Lakes out of Tavares, Fla.

After that event, Hennessey will continue to compete in the full Open schedule: two more Southern Opens, three Centrals and three Opens in the Northern division, which BASS added for the 2009 season. Hennessey’s travels will take him from Florida to Maryland, Alabama, New York, Texas, Ohio, South Carolina and twice to Louisiana.

“I decided the more tournaments I get into, the more experience I’ll get, and the more I’ll improve my skills,” said Hennessey, who wants to become a tournament angler.

In 2008, Hennessey entered six Open events as a co-angler. In the co-angler standings, he finished 16th in the Central division and 20th in the Southern. He had two top-10 finishes.

Amazingly, he did all that while completing his junior year at Caroline High School in Millford, Va., and didn’t let the tournament schedule get in the way of his studies. 

Hennessey got his class assignments before each Open event, and packed his books and computer along with his tackle. He became so good at juggling schoolwork and BASS competitions, he maintained his honor-roll status.

“As soon as I came off the water each day, I started my homework,” he said.

Now a senior, he’s hoping his studies and fishing will mesh as smoothly as they did in 2008.

“My teachers and principal are very supportive – a couple of them actually have professional anglers in their families, so they know what it’s like,” he said. “They say that as long as I keep up with my schoolwork and maintain good grades and stay on the honor roll, they’ll support me.”

Hennessey decided long ago to become a professional angler. His first exposure to competition was in junior BASS Federation Nation events. He fished his way through regional competitions to qualify for Virginia’s junior state championship in 2007.

Even though he competed as a co-angler in 2008, he brought his boat to events so he could practice on the water. His mother, Angela Cates, traveled with him, but it was Hennessey who drove the tow vehicle and maintained the boat.

“She’s very supportive,” Hennessey said of his mother. “She loves the idea of me going out there and fishing, following my dream.”

The dream includes, of course, qualifying one day for the Bassmaster Classic and the Bassmaster Elite Series. But for 2009, his goal is modest. He said he’d be satisfied to finish the three Open divisions in the top 50 in the standings.

As he makes his bid to be a successful professional angler, he’s also making plans to fulfill another life goal. He wants to be a neurosurgeon. He has applied to three universities with pre-med programs. But he won’t give up his fishing for college.

“I’m definitely going to go to college and fish at the same time,” he said.


Meanwhile, he’s working on upgrading his boat rig and developing more sponsorships. He claims two solid sponsors now: a Bass Pro Shops store in Baltimore, near his former home; and Max Service Center in Ashland, Va. He’s lining up seminars and speaking engagements, and already has one scheduled this summer. 

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