Two years ago, Ben Parker earned his living as an investment banker. Today, he's a rookie pro in the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series.
That may seem like an improbable leap, but it is true to his outdoor roots on Reelfoot Lake in northwestern Tennessee.
"On my father's side of the family, we've been hunting, fishing and guiding in the area of Reelfoot for years and years. My life growing up revolved around that," said Parker, who now lives in a cabin on Kentucky Lake near Springville, Tenn., not too far from Reelfoot.
Influenced by his schoolteacher mother, Parker left home after high school to attend the University of Memphis. He earned a degree in business and finance. Right out of college he got a job as a stockbroker. He stayed in the investment field for more than eight years, traveling the country, but he never gave up fishing or hunting; he continued to guide duck hunters almost every season.
And then one day about two years ago, he decided to chuck the investment job. He said he could no longer deny that pro fishing was what he really wanted to do.
"I didn't want to wake up one day, 80 years old and kicking myself for not doing it," said Parker, now 33.
He aimed for the top: Bassmaster Elite Series pro.
"All the bass fishermen I idolized growing up, B.A.S.S. is what they all fished. The Elite Series and Bassmaster Classic — that's what bass fishing is all about. It's the highest level of competition in my opinion," he said.
To finance his fishing, he geared up his guiding business, Parker's Outfitting (www.parkersoutfitting.com). Meanwhile, he acquired the Kentucky Lake cabin and worked on his fishing skills.
He'd fished B.A.S.S. Federation Nation tournaments and the 2010 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens, and by the end of his first season, he was in 10th place in the points standings, not quite good enough for the Elite Series invite.
But Parker didn't give up hope that, as duplicate or declined qualifications were determined, B.A.S.S. would work down the list to 10th place and offer him a spot in the 2011 Elite Series field.
It happened. The call came December 1. Parker said he didn't hesitate, accepting "in about half a second."
His wrap sponsors will include Parker's Outfitters and, he hopes, another deal now in the works.
"I'm hoping to get my name out there and pick up some sponsors so I can continue fishing," he said. "Right now, I'm taking a big chance and financing myself. I want to see how good I am. I'm putting everything on the line, but fishing the Elite Series is what I want to do."
In reaching the upper echelon of competitive fishing, Parker also can count himself as a member of another exclusive set: former B.A.S.S. Federation Nation competitors who fished their way up into the Elite Series ranks. Members of the club include Michael Iaconelli, Jami Fralick, Russ Lane and one of Parker's fellow Elite Series rookies, 2010 B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship winner Brandon Palaniuk.
Although Parker won his state Federation Nation event again in 2010, qualifying him to compete in the Southern Divisional, he'll have to pass because of a scheduling conflict with the Elite Series.
"But that's part of it," he said. "The Federation was what really got me excited about tournaments, and I really enjoyed. Not everyone's goal in fishing the Federation is to get to the Elites, but it's a great platform to use to work your way up.