KENNEWICK -- Jake Cook may be the top junior bass fisherman in the country, but his future professional plans include catching crooks as well as fish.
The 18-year-old from Kennewick capped a season that saw him win the Washington state championship and the age 15-18 Western Division title of the Bass Federation Nation with a victory Oct. 30 in the 2009 Junior Bassmaster World Championship at Lake Yale East in Tavares, Fla.
Cook's total of 13 pounds and 1 ounce topped the second-place finisher by 61/2 pounds and was more than the daily haul of most of the pro anglers on that day.
His win earned him a $5,000 college scholarship and a fully rigged Triton bass boat valued at $9,000.
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But come January, he'll be spending as much time in a classroom and studying than he will with his rods and reels when he starts classes at Columbia Basin College in Pasco.
Cook, a graduate of Kennewick High School, plans to study criminal justice with the intent of becoming a police officer.
He also would like to compete in bass tournaments when possible.
"I'll keep fishing, but I don't plan on making fishing a career because it's hard to rely on it. You can't expect a steady salary from fishing year after year,'' Cook said this week upon returning from Florida with his parents, Mark and Vicki.
"It'd be nice to be on the professional circuit, but it is tough to do it. If you can get sponsors and get your entry fees (for tournaments) paid for, that would be awesome. But if you're having to pay for entry fees, your boat, gas, rods and reels, everything else, it's hard. It is not a cheap job at all," he said.
For now, though, Cook can proudly look back on his win at the world championships, an achievement he attributes in part to a pre-tournament fishing trip he made to the Florida lake in September.
He found a spot during that scouting trip with submerged orange trees, about 12 feet deep, where bass collected because of an abundance of prey. So when the tournament pre-fishing day arrived last month for the junior anglers, Cook stayed away from the location and looked for other holes.
"I knew it was the best to go. The whole time, I never saw anyone else fishing it, so I left it alone," he said.
So on tournament day, Cook steered his boat to the secret spot and started throwing crankbaits over the trees.
"I stayed there five hours while everyone else was running around the lake," he said. "I was on the fish, and I stayed on (the spot) most of the day."
As Mark Cook observed, "He stuck to his game plan and it worked out great."
Jake Cook knew he'd be in the running for the championship, but he admits to some nervousness when he stood on the awards platform.
"My legs were shaking so bad, it was just a huge feeling," Cook said. "It's something I have dreamed about doing."
Those dreams began on Elliot Lake in east Kennewick, where Cook learned to fish as a boy.
Later, he joined local bass fishing clubs where he gained experience and learned from other local anglers, including mentors Jerry Alexander, guide Bob Adkinson and Larry Wise.
"They all helped me a lot along the way and do to this day," Cook said.
His first bass boat "had a tree growing out of it. He rebuilt it by himself," his father recalled.
Cook frequently took that boat out on the Columbia River and elsewhere, refining his angling skill.
"Every year you get more fishing time, more experience. It's time on the water," said Cook, who fishes up to four days a week on the Columbia when his schedule allows.
"You learn a lot from other people, talking to them and seeing how they do things. You're always learning," he said.
For example, he found the submerged orange trees that yielded his winning bass because he looked for an area where fish might be collecting for food that was overlooked by other anglers.
Cook also isn't afraid of trying different techniques.
"It's something he likes doing, and he's getting something out of it with the scholarships and all," his father said, pausing to pay his son the ultimate compliment.
"He's a pretty good fisherman."
* Kevin McCullen: 509-582-1535; email@example.com