Skip to content

30 years in the military, a lifetime chasing bass

Aug. 30, 2018

It’s easy to believe anything John Simonof says.

Maybe that’s because he has a commanding appearance and speaks with calm authority. Or because he served 30 years in the U.S. Air Force and reached the highest enlisted rank of Chief Master Sargent.

Or perhaps because he has a suitcase full of college degrees, including doctorate, master’s and bachelor’s degrees in business administration & management.

Most likely, however, it’s because he earned 2017 Angler of the Year honors on the American Fishing Tour of the American Bass Anglers Association and has the trophy – as well as a Triton 21 TRX and Mercury 250 Pro XS – to prove it.

Like many bass tournament anglers, Simonof, now 54, discovered fishing early in life and continued down the apparently addictive path toward this lifelong habit. He’s searched high and low for many species – both saltwater and freshwater – but catching, weighing and releasing bass clearly owns his soul.

“Angler of the Year” (AOY) is not a title easily claimed. The AOY program on the American Fishing Tour provides anglers who finish atop their home division – there are 80-90 divisions – an opportunity to compete at the ABA National Championship for the AOY title. The AOY championship is essentially a tournament within a tournament.

The three-day 2017 AOY Championship took place in late October on the Ouachita River in Monroe, Louisiana, in conjunction with the 2017 ABA National Championship. Simonof closed out the first day of AOY competition third in the standings, not far behind the leader. He slipped a little in the standings on Day 2, but roared back on the final round to claim the coveted AOY title.

“The American Fishing Tour National Championship was a great test of skills,” Simonof said after the win. “The conditions of the Ouachita River – low water and very little flow – became equalizers for the event. The cold front pushing through the middle of the week also impacted the fishing. The bass were biting well before the front, but the bite slowed when the weather turned to high bluebird skies with very little wind the first day of the tournament.”

On Day One, Simonof ran his boat more than two hours through patchy and heavy fog, idling into backwater and push-poling over stumps. Fish were slow to bite early, but he quickly caught nearly a dozen keepers when the sun warmed the water. He feared his 9.2 pounds wouldn’t put him in the running, but he discovered later he was sitting great – in both the National Championship standings and AOY standings.

On Day Two, Simonof reached his targeted area earlier and was in the last flight, providing a little extra fishing time.

“The temp had dropped a few more degrees, so I felt I needed a slower presentation,” he said.

He caught a small limit fishing with deliberation around stumps, but switched baits and fished faster when the sun drenched his fishing area. He pulled in about 20 fish, though only a few were big enough to improve his total weight. He dropped to 11th in the National Championship (six pounds back) and fourth in the AOY standings (just two pounds behind the leader).

But then the weather heated up, and so did Simonof. During the final round of the three-day event, Simonof correctly predicted warmer conditions would change the bite. He tried top-water baits but they didn’t produce. At about 9 a.m., he reeled in two keepers just minutes apart. He turned to fishing stumps and cypress trees to fill his limit. A six-pounder just missed his bait mid-day – presumably killing his shot at the AOY title – but he soon boated a three-pounder for a two-pound upgrade.

His 11.9-pound Day Three total clinched the AOY Title.

“I can honestly say I’ve never worked so physically hard during a tournament,” said Simonof. “It seemed I was grabbing my push pole every five minutes to get off a stump or shallow flat.”

Despite living many years in southern U.S. states, Simonof was born in Harbor City, California, and was raised in nearby Poway and Escondido. He and his wife Rachelle have a daughter, Mandelin, who brought a husband, Matt, and four grandkids into the family – Ryan, Audrie, Alexander, and Mackenzie.

Simonof spent his first 25 years in the Air Force in calibration labs, working on a gamut of things. His final five years were dedicated to supervising efforts in various areas of aircraft maintenance. He closed out his military career as the Chief of Quality Assurance of Aircraft Maintenance at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas.

Prior to those final years, Simonof found himself working around the globe: Denver, Okinawa, California, Iceland, South Carolina and Mississippi as well as brief trips to Japan, the Philippines, Germany, England and Italy.

“My best assignment was Iceland,” he said. “It was beautiful in the summer and winter. I enjoyed the traveling during my career and wish I had done more.”

He retired from the Air Force six years ago, and currently teaches at a technical college when he’s not competing in tournaments.

“I’ve learned that work-life balance is important,” he said. “That part of our lives is a very personal thing, one of the most important aspects of our life.”

While simultaneously furthering his education, Simonof has competed in ABA tournaments since 1986 and has fished in other tournament associations as well. He says luck has played a role in his tournament successes, but more important has been his acquired ability to adapt to conditions.

“I’m more consistent than I used to be,” he said. “I used to get jitters when I faced a big challenge. If the fish didn’t bite, I struggled to succeed. Learning to adapt became extremely important. Now, once I find the fish, I figure out how to make them bite. If they’re not eating what I’m throwing, I don’t leave and look for fish somewhere else. I adapt to find something that works. If I think ‘these are the winning fish,’ I’m not going to leave. I figure out what will work.”

The biggest bass Simonof has bagged was a 14.6 pounder at Lake Hodges in California. He’s still looking for something even bigger.

“I love to fish,” he said. “I’d do it every day if I could. And that would include saltwater fishing as well as freshwater. But I really enjoy the competition that comes with tournament fishing.”

At least equally important to him, he said, has been his military career. His two greatest life achievements, he said, were winning his Angler of the Year title in 2017 and reaching Chief Master Sargent in the Air Force. No. 1 on his list of remaining goals is claiming the ABA National Championship.

Cookie Preferences