The town of Vineland, N.J., is tucked away in Cumberland County. As fishing towns go, it’s hard to beat Vineland’s geography: It’s just 52 minutes to Ocean City and exactly an hour to Cape May, the gateway to perhaps some of the best striped bass fishing in the world.
It’s a great place to live if you’re a saltwater captain, but it’s a seemingly odd place for a professional bass fisherman. It just so happens that “Jersey Boy” Adrian Avena is both.
One of the 80 anglers competing on the Major League Fishing (MLF) Bass Pro Tour, Avena has made his living for eight years catching smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass from March through September, and running charters out of Cape May from September through Christmas.
We sat down with the MLF pro to find out how his upbringing on the New Jersey salt helped him become a successful bass pro.
Game & Fish: You operate Jersey Boy Charters in the off-season. How and why did you get into bass fishing?
Adrian Avena: My passion for fishing definitely started on the saltwater side. I’ve saltwater fished all my life, but it wasn’t until I was in high school that I really started to get interested in bass fishing. I happened to be out at a place called Brunetti’s Sandwash near my house, fishing out of a 14-foot Jon boat with a trolling motor hooked onto the back of it, trolling crankbaits. This guy fishing there caught a 6-pounder on a football head and waved me over to check it out, and I didn’t even know you could catch fish like that there. That guy was a state trooper at the time, and he took me under his wing and showed me the basics.
G&F: How did you get into tournament fishing?
AA: It just so happened that my freshman year in college is when FLW started its collegiate bass program, so I jumped right into that. I went to a Division II school to play tennis—Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia—and we competed on the Potomac River, Lake Champlain and Thousand Islands [New York] that first year. It’s funny because two or three years before that, if bass fishing came on TV, I didn’t pay attention to it. I always watched saltwater fishing shows. But once I learned about the competitive aspect of bass fishing, I really got into it.
G&F: What did you think when you started fishing Champlain, the Potomac and Thousand Islands? Those are massive bodies of water, different than Brunetti’s Sandwash.
AA: I actually felt right at home on those bodies of water. They reminded me of what I grew up on, the saltwater. You get on Lake Champlain and it’s 115 miles long, or on Thousand Islands and it has current, or on the Potomac River and there’s a tidal influence. Those have a lot of parallels to saltwater fishing. When fishing those places, I felt like my understanding of tides, electronics and open-water fishing helped me do well. That’s what allowed me to advance so quickly when I started tournament fishing.
G&F: What about saltwater fishing have you translated to tournament bass fishing?
AA: If you recall, 10 to 15 years ago, electronics weren’t nearly as prevalent in bass fishing. Growing up, I was running chart plotters, 2D sonar and radar for as long as I can remember, so that was a big thing for me right from day one. But I think the biggest thing is what I translate from striped bass fishing: When I leave the inlet every single morning with my clients, I don’t know if we’ll run 5 miles or 50. I don’t know if we’ll catch them trolling, fishing live bait or fishing topwater. It’s the unknown of chasing migratory fish. You never run to one particular spot and catch them time and time again. These fish are constantly on the move.
I can take that experience and apply it to something like chasing spotted bass on Table Rock Lake in Missouri, where I’m looking for spotted bass in open water. Yes, I’m fishing structure, but those spots are open-water fish that will stop on that structure for a short period of time and then move on. They’re chasing bait around. It’s wind dependent, it’s influenced by the position of the sun, it’s dependent on current. Understanding how fish position in current and current seams is one of the biggest things I learned [while saltwater fishing]. Every time I’m fishing open water for bass, I’m figuring out where these fish are going. I don’t home in on one particular thing because I’ve been forced to figure it out saltwater fishing.
Follow expert angler Adrian Avena and the rest of the MLF Bass Pro Tour at majorleaguefishing.com.