By Anthony Rhoads
Fishing is a passion for many people but many anglers in the Southern Crescent are taking it to another level.
Stockbridge's Jeff Carreker competes on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, the top professional fishing organizations in the world.
Carreker, a 1973 Forest Park High School graduate, started competing on the FLW Tour in 2000 as a co-angler and is currently in his first season as a professional.
Carreker's journey in competing at the national level began when he fished in an EverStart Series event in 1998. The EverStart Series is sanctioned by the FLW and is one step down from the top division.
Since then, he's posted two top-fives in 33 tournaments. His first top-10 came at Lake Okeechobee in 2000 when he placed fifth in an FLW tournament. His second top-10 was an eight-place showing in a Wal-Mart BFL (Bass Fishing League) tournament at Lake Seminole.
"I enjoy the competition and the adrenaline it takes to participate," he said.
While fishing at the top level can be lucrative with winners receiving as much as $100,000 per tournament, anglers mainly fish for the love of the sport.
Carreker has earned a little more than $12,000 since 1998 and doesn't plan on giving up his land development business to go into fishing full-time.
"It will probably always be a sideline," he said. "Unlike some guys, I never looked at it as a pie-in-the-sky thing."
Even though it won't be a full-time gig, Carreker is still honored to be fishing in the elite divisions of competitive angling.
"It's sort of like a dream come true," he said.
Fishing is a family deal for Carreker as his son, Jeff Carreker Jr., of McDonough, has also fished in some BFL tournaments.
"That was the ultimate thing but he hasn't been in as many tournaments he has a family to raise," Carreker said.
Mark Knight, of McDonough, is definitely serious about his fishing.
He started fishing in the FLW in 1996 and is currently in the BFL Bulldog Division. He's also fished some EverStart Series tournaments as a co-angler.
"I just like the competition," he said. "If I go fishing, I want to fish at a tournament because you never know when you're going to catch a big one or five good ones. Just relaxing and fishing isn't really relaxing for me because when I fish, I'm in tournament mode. The competition drives me."
He owns and operates Bestway Storage Trailers but there's no doubt where his heart is.
"I would like to do it full-time," he said.
Knight is currently 67th in the BFL Bulldog Division rankings this year with one event remaining. If he can move into the top 30, he'll have the chance to move up to the EverStart Series.
He loves the outdoors and also enjoys hunting.
"I do a lot of outdoors stuff," he said.
Douglas Moore, of Locust Grove, is in his first season of competing in the BFL Bulldog Division with his best finish coming on May 15 at Lake Oconee when he placed 23rd.
He's currently ranked 28th in the overall rankings and if he can maintain his ranking in the top 30, he can move to the EverStart Series.
"I would love to do it full-time but to do that you have to be perfect every time you go out," he said.
He first became interested in tournament fishing as a member of the Federated Bass Club.
"That's where I really learned my skills as far as tournament fishing goes," he said.
Moore, a Wisconsin native who grew up in Washington, has been fishing nearly all his life.
"I've been fishing since I was knee-high," he said.
Moore is sponsored by Boaty's Produce trucking company.
David Yates, of Locust Grove, not only fishes on the BFL Bulldog Division tour but is also works part-time as a fishing guide on Lake Sinclair and Oconee.
Yates wants to fish in the big time leagues but it's an uphill battle without sponsorships.
"I've been trying to get in the Bassmasters and FLW Tour but it's hard without corporate sponsorships," he said.
He's competed in six BFL tournaments since 2003.
"I think it's probably the camaraderie with the other contestants and the competition and being on the lake that's probably No.1, being out on the water while competing," he said.
Twin brothers Raul and Andy Lopez compete in the BFL Bulldog Division with two other anglers, Mark Olden of McDonough and Kevin Barwick of Monticello.
"We work together and we fish together," Raul Lopez said. "We grew up and fished together during high school."
They not only fish in the BFL but compete in weekly local tournaments as well.
"I like the competition and I got into bass fishing and took it to the next level," Raul Lopez said. "I go fishing for fun but when you've got 200 boats out there, that's what gets me every time."
The Lopez brothers and Olden and Barwick are sponsored by Homestar Mortgage, which has been a big plus for them.
"The sponsorship plays a major role; it helps financial with the tournaments because it does get expensive," Lopez said. "The sponsorships are very important; it's like NASCAR."
Lopez works full-time as an electrical contractor but there's no doubt he wants to fish for a living.
"That's what I'm working to get at right now," he said.
Ken Cothran, of Locust Grove, has fished in the BFL since 2000 and fished on one EverStart tournament last year. Last season, he also recorded his first top 10, a ninth-place finish at Lake Seminole.
Cothran got into fishing with his grandfather, who used to take him out on Lake Hartwell.