Maybe you’ve heard of the 10,000-hour rule: To master a particular skill, you need to put in at least 10,000 hours at it.
Recently, Josh Manuel, a senior at East Texas Baptist University, and his partner, Grant Hendrix, a grad student, proved that time on the water really does pay off. Together, they scored a first-place finish at the FLW College Fishing Tournament on the Ouachita River near Monroe, Louisiana.
To Manuel, the win was a reminder that hard work and perseverance will eventually be rewarded.
“If I were to offer just one piece of advice to my 15-year-old self,” said Manuel, “it would be ‘stick with it’. When it comes to fishing tournaments, there will be incredible days and there will be really down days. You just have to keep at it and not let those down days take you out of the game. That’s the advice I’d give to younger anglers.”
Manuel, the son of Joe and Christal Manuel, has loved fishing for bass from the time he was six years old when his Dad showed him how to fish for bass at a friend’s pond near Little Rock, Arkansas.
“I caught my first bass on a small square-billed crankbait,” said Manuel. “I remember that moment like it was yesterday.”
A resident of Burleson, Texas, Manuel, 21, took up tournament fishing when he was 15 years old when he joined the Lone Star Junior Bassmaster club. While his high school didn’t support a high school bass fishing team, he was able to compete by joining with other students through the Tarrant County Anglers fishing club.
“What made me want to pursue bass fishing at the collegiate level instead of baseball and basketball? Well, when I was about 15, my Dad took me to the 2014 Bassmaster Classic. That year the event was held on Lake Guntersville. When I saw what all was happening with the new high school and collegiate programs, I just knew I had to be a part of it.”
Obviously, to compete at the level that Manuel envisioned for himself, he needed a boat. So, when he was in junior high, he started his own landscaping and lawncare business to raise enough money to buy a bass fishing boat.
“I bought a 1998 used Skeeter with a 200-hp Yamaha V-MAX engine,” said Manuel. “It’s my pride and joy. I cleaned it up, replaced the electronics with new Humminbirds, seats and carpeting, and cleaned the hull.”
“I knew once I started tournament fishing that I wanted to do it for a long time,” he added.
In addition to investing in a boat, Manuel has built an arsenal of lures that allows him to anticipate just about any type of fishing condition. And, it just so happens, Manuel relies on Rapala lures. One of his go-to baits is the BX Brat, a square-bill crankbait that allows Manuel to cover a ton of water fast in search of bass.
“I love to bounce the Brat off structure,” said Manuel, who has a preference for the BX® Brat in Pearl Grey Shiner and Homer’s Buddy. He’s also prone to Rapala® DT® lures in Penguin or Smash.
Kicking It Up a Notch
After he graduated from high school, Manuel sought a college that had a bass fishing team. He wound up at East Texas Baptist University (ETBU), which is located in Marshall, Texas, near the Texas-Louisiana border, about 45 minutes west of Shreveport.
“I joined the team here as it was heading into its second year of competition,” said Manuel. “It’s been exciting to be part of this growing program. The school has been very supportive of the team.”
The 15-member ETBU team competes in the highly competitive Southern Conference of FLW College Fishing. Last year, in the program’s fourth year, the school claimed the inaugural Southern Conference Championship with 1,752 points and finished eighth in the nation. Other top programs in the Southern conference include Stephen F. Austin State University, Tarleton University, University of Oklahoma, and the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
In his freshman year on the ETBU Tigers bass fishing team, Manuel took 4th place in the Arkansas Collegiate Series on Lake Ouachita with 8.64 lbs. and finished 16th during the FLW College Fishing tournament on Ft. Gibson Lake with a catch of 8 lbs. 4oz. This season, Manuel and Hendrix had already qualified for the 2021 FLW College National Championship after an 8th place finish on Ft. Gibson Lake back in July.
“We have one more tournament left this year,” said Manuel. “We’re in contention to win the conference again. From there, our teams focus will be competing in the national tournament.” The 12th annual Abu Garcia College Fishing presented by YETI National Championship will be held on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees from March 3-5, 2021.
With their eyes already set on the national tournament, Manuel and his fishing partner, Hendrix, a resident of Livingston, Texas, powered through the competition to win the Abu Garcia College Fishing presented by YETI at the Ouachita River with a five-bass limit weighing 15 pounds, 4 oz. The victory not only earned bragging rights for Manuel and Hendrix, but also earned their team $2,000. The Tigers duo won by a 1½-pound margin over the second-place team of Luke O’Neal and Wesley Banks, from the University of Louisiana-Monroe, who weighed in five bass totaling 13 pounds, 12 ounces. The tournament launched from Forsythe Park in Monroe, Louisiana. The ETBU Tiger’s team of Kaden Proffitt, Pittsburg, Texas, and Cason Ragsdale, Winnsboro, Texas, weighed in five bass, 12-12, to come in third place.
“We had a good game plan in place for that tournament. We practiced several days, both individually and together to identify a stretch of the river that we knew had the right size of fish to put us into contention,” said Manuel.
“In trying to figure out Ouachita, I was inspired by an episode of Rapala pro Mike Iaconelli’s TV program, City Limits, where he showed how to find bass on the Arkansas River. While I know each body of water is different, watching him dissect a river system gave me some ideas that were helpful in figuring out a strategy.”
A Future in Fishing
Beyond his dream of capturing a national college championship, Manuel dreams of a career in the fishing industry. The marketing major, who is currently working in the university’s athletic communications department, sees himself working for a manufacturer or a retailer while he continues to pursue tournament fishing. One day, he’d like to obtain his MBA in marketing or business admin.
“I’ve worked in the Thorne Brothers booth at the Bassmaster Classic Expo representing Rapala® and VMC®,” Manuel said, “and I really love meeting with other bass fishing fans. I hope to visit the original Thorne Brothers store in Minnesota one day.”
“At the same time, I’d love to keep tournament fishing,” Manuel added. “I love the competition. And, tournament fishing has taught me so much. It’s absolutely made me a better angler. I can go to a new body of water and figure out how to dissect it – especially under changing conditions.”
“I just keep saying to myself: Stick with your strengths and never give up. And as long as you can do that last part, you’re never defeated.”