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Angling To Win

After 12 years, it pays off for ‘Jersey Boy’ Adrian Avena, of Vineland, as he takes his first top win on the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour.

Adrian Avena celebrates his first-place finish with this post on Facebook: Major League Fishing #IGotMeOne.
by Mickey Brandt
In a preliminary round of the Lake Cayuga event, Avena caught the largest smallmouth bass of his career (6 lb.-6 oz.). Photos courtesy Adrian Avena
In a preliminary round of the Lake Cayuga event, Avena caught the largest smallmouth bass of his career (6 lb.-6 oz.). Photos courtesy Adrian Avena

Professional bass fisherman Adrian Avena, 32, from Vineland won the Major League Fishing (MLF) Bass Pro Tour Favorite Fishing Stage Five on Cayuga Lake in Union Springs, New York, held June 9-12. It was Avena’s first-ever Bass Pro Tour win. He earned the top payout of $100,000, which pushed his career earnings over the $1 million mark.

Avena’s two-day knockout and championship round total for his best 10 bass weighing 58 pounds was two pounds better than Bass Tour rookie Spencer Shuffield, who finished second.

It was an emotional afternoon for “Jersey Boy,” as he is called: The 12-year veteran finally earned his own red trophy.

He is humble and thankful about coming out on top after 18 tour-level Top Ten finishes, including a third place in the most recent previous MLF event. He is known as one of the most consistent professional bass fishermen.

“It’s a huge burden off of my shoulders,” he told SNJ Today.

In his post-game interview, he described his excitement and gratitude: “You have no idea what this win means to me. I travel and room with three of the best guys in the world …. When you surround yourself with a house full of guys that are straight hammers it rubs off a little bit. But watching them win trophy after trophy, I’m glad that now I’ve got mine.”

Growing up in Vineland as a young fisherman (and hunter), Avena was usually in the company of his father, grandfather, and uncle. Due to the scarcity of large lakes in southern New Jersey, they did mostly saltwater fishing. Nontheless, that gave Arena “a real good handle on saltwater skill,” and a “leg up” in reaching the pro level in freshwater competition.

He competed intercollegiate while in college at Chester Hill, starred in local fishing clubs, won tournaments, and entered the pro ranks at 19. His rise was meteoric.

In one year, he was at the highest level of what could be called “minor league” bass fishing—equivalent to Triple A for pro baseball players. Shortly, he qualified for MLF and never looked back.

“It takes some guys 15 or 20 years to get here,” he said.” “Even though some are great fishermen, you have to have a ‘day job’ while in the minors and it makes it much harder.”

Over his four days of competition on Cayuga Lake, Avena weighed in 20 smallmouth bass totaling 105 pounds even. Five others in the field also broke the 100-pound mark. According to Business Wire, it was an incredible week of fishing that will likely be looked back on as the greatest smallmouth event in Bass Pro Tour history.

The event showcased the elite 80 members of MLF—the top professional anglers in the world.

“It’s a lot like the PGA in golf and it’s international.” Avena said. [Second-place finisher] Shuffield’s purse was $45,000. The top 10 winners got declining prize money amounts, down to $16,000 for 10th.

“I have so many people to thank, that have believed in me from the start, and this just feels really good to be able to do this for them.” Avena said. “My dad has a weak heart, and he’s always telling me, ‘Adrian, I want to see you win a tournament before I pass away.’ Well, Pop, we got it done.”

Jersey Boy Adrian has run the Annual Youth Fishing Contest for nine years at Campanella (South Vineland) Park in Vineland. It’s open to ages 15 and younger in three age categories and always attracts a good crowd. This year’s date will be announced soon.

“I am excited and hopeful to make this one of the best events yet. If you’re local to South Jersey make sure to come out. If you’re not, bring a kid you know who likes fishing,” Avena said.

Avena also operates Jersey Boy Charters, pictured above—two busy fishing boats out of Cape May and Ocean City. The private excursions range from a four-hour one on the calm back bays to a day-long hunt for marlin, tuna, an occasional shark, and other large species, 50 to 70 miles offshore.

Sometimes, a single angler will rent the whole boat. Each accommodates six and in total, they go out about 150 times in a season. When Avena is not on the Pro Bass Tour, he captains a boat and has a few other captains, all from Vineland. They are described by their boss as “hard core fishing guys.”

“I like it,” Avena said. “It’s totally different from freshwater fishing so it’s a welcome change for me, it helps to avoid burnout.”