Jacksonville native Jacob Wall was sitting in the catbird seat in his sophomore year on the FLW pro bass tour when the novel coronavirus shut America down.
So he retreated to a back room in his Alabama home, where he traded his fishing rods for sandpaper and wood to spawn a back-up career hand-crafting high-end fishing lures to catch both fish and collectors.
The wooden “swim baits” imitate bass, perch, crappie, chub and other fish that big bass prey on. And for Wall, the side-gig is a profitable mix of his high-school roots, his university education and his avocation as a pro basser who needs to catch big fish to move up in his chosen field.
“It’s something I’ve been doing for a number of years, but I’m taking it seriously now,” says Wall, 24. “It’s been a fun little hobby that’s turned into a profitable side-business.”
At anywhere from $100 to $150 apiece, Wall’s lures are equally at home in the water and hanging on a wall.
“Some people are buying them to fish, but others as collector’s items,” Wall says.
The lure creation is a hiccup in what so far has been a breakout year for Wall on the FLW tour.
Wall last year extracted himself from Salmon Nation and moved to Alabama to embed himself in bass culture and to be closer to the FLW tour sites across the South.
He fished in seven tournaments on the FLW Tour, the highest level in the largest tournament angling organization in the world. FLW, which stands for Fishing League Worldwide, sports a seven-tourney circuit that runs January through May and pays out $6.5 million in cash prizes.
In his rookie year, Wall finished 55th in the standings, earning $28,500 — not enough to recoup his entry fees of more than $33,000.
Still, it wasn’t bad on a tour where young anglers typically fish a few years in the red before seeing black.
This year seemed to be starting out awfully black for Wall. Relying more on his gut than his cerebral cortex, Wall parlayed a string of decent showings in the first three of this year’s eight FLW tour events into a seventh place standing — comfortably in place to reach the FLW finals as a top-50 finisher.
“Last year, I built a fire under me and I ran with it this year,” Wall says. “A lot of it had to do with my confidence in my decision-making. I’m going with my intuitions and using my fish-finding instincts, and I’m not caught up second-guessing myself like last year.”
The coronavirus brought all that to a halt March 18, when the FLW shut down like most of the country.
So Wall’s been hunkered down in his Alabama home, rediscovering a passion of his past.
While at St. Mary’s School — and winning state high-school bass-fishing tournaments with his old pal Colby Pearson — Wall and Pearson used to make their own swim baits, which they used to catch some of those tourney-winning fish.
“We started doing it to save money, really,” Wall says.
While fishing on the University of Oregon bass team, which placed in nationals as a club team, Wall majored in art and production design. When he finished lengthy lab work for art classes, he’d grab excess wood to build fishing lures on the side.
It’s a skill he’s reached back to now that he and the rest of the bass pros are kegged up at home.
“I guess that education is finally coming to use,” Wall laughs.
But building good lures is as much art as it is tediousness.
First, he sketches a pattern on wood to imitate the lines of a perch, chub or other small fish that big bass consider a fine dinner. He cuts the rough shape out with a saw, and uses sandpaper and hand tools to craft the fine edges of the back, nose and tail.
Most of the big lures are then cut into two or three pieces and conjoined with metal twist pieces. Similar metal twists are added to the belly and tail from which treble hooks are hung. Strategically placed pieces of lead balance the lure and determine whether it will be a deep-diving or a top-water offering.
Wall then air-brushes the main paint, dabbles with blotches of black or red to give the rainbow trout or crappie imitations the look of life.
“There’s always a lot of strategy that goes into them,” Wall says.
Wall sells his work through his Instagram page at Jacobwallfishing.
Since the pandemic hit, he’s filled more than two dozen orders — some for the water and others for the wall.
“I create them with the sole purpose of fishing in mind,” Wall says. “But some people chose to keep them as collectibles.”
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.