Jon Harshbarger – A Competitor and a Gentleman
It was a cool February morning in 2005 and rain was in the forecast. I was a non-boater paired with a man whom had been described to me as a very talented angler and one of the best to ever pitch a jig. I had no idea what I was in store for that day.
We began throwing crank baits towards a shoreline and down a retaining wall. Then Jon inched the nose of the boat into a small patch of lily pads. Within ten minutes, I heard the quick snap of a hook set. I saw Jon plunging his left arm into the pads and pull out a large bass with his jig squarely in its mouth. It was the quietest catch of a fish that size I had ever seen. It was not a long fight, no screaming or yelling, no panic – just a quick hook set, a fast yank, and a fish in the boat. Little did I know I was witnessing the opening moments of Century Bass Club history.
That day I saw an exhibition of bait placement unlike any I had ever witnessed. Whether dropping a jig into a small hole between lily pads, skipping a dock, pitching to a stump, or flipping to the smallest of targets, watching was truly a class in graduate-level angling. The skill was not learned overnight. When I complimented Jon he replied, “It took many years of practice; it didn’t come easy.”
That day Jon caught several large fish – all on jigs. He pitched, skipped, flipped and tossed his jig into the smallest of gaps with a sharpshooter’s precision. It was a thing of beauty. Never before had I seen such incredible accuracy as what Jon displayed in his well-honed skills. Once, he skipped his jig the entire width of a wide boat dock and allowed it to stop gently at the face of the opposite wall. I placed my rod in its ramp and watched quietly for several minutes. Jon looked back at me and said, “You can’t be done for the day?” I replied, “No, but I think I’ll just enjoy the show for a bit.” That drizzly, cool day in February ended in an easy win for Jon Harshbarger.
I did not weigh a single fish. However, Jon’s fish were more than enough to earn me $50 for “Heavy Boat” despite my poor showing. I offered the $50 I had “won” to him knowing he had done all the work and he politely refused it. Instead he offered the following encouragement, “It’s your money, keep it. One day it may be the other way around.”
The win marked the first of a Century Bass Club record five regular season wins for Jon. In addition, his placements in the other five tournaments were exceptional. In three of the 5 tourneys, he placed 2nd, 5th and 7th. It was Jon Harshbarger’s most memorable season to date.
Jon grew up in Central Illinois where public fishing water is very hard to find. His great uncle introduced him to the world of fishing where Jon caught his first fish at the early age of three. At age 13, his great uncle purchased a membership in a club that owned 30 to 40 crystal clear strip mine ponds, which were full of fish. Jon’s love for fishing grew as he spent his time cat fishing and honing his skills on different lures.
Jon’s first fish using a lure came on a #11 Rapala Floating Minnow, but he would soon become acquainted with the bait that would earn a special place in his arsenal. “I learned to jig fish well before I ever learned how to worm fish”, he recounted. “I caught about a 7 pound fish on a spinnerbait, but when I caught a 7 pound fish on a jig, that was it. I never put it back down.”
Once enamored with a jig, Jon’s addiction to fishing grew. He worked for his uncle cleaning up around roofing sites to earn money on the weekends. This job allowed him to save money and finally get off the bank onto the water. At age 16, Jon purchased his first boat – a small one-man Tracker similar to a “Water Spider” with $430 of hard-earned savings. His uncle donated an old trolling motor bound together by duck tape and Jon commandeered an old battery so that he could motor around the strip mine ponds he loved to fish.
No stranger to hard work, Jon moved to the Dallas area in 1983 to further his career in bridge construction. He quickly grew to enjoy the area’s large number of public waters in which he could freely wet a line. With these new fishing opportunities came the desire to compete. Jon knew he was in the right place at just the right time. Not only did the North Texas area have many lakes but more than its share of bass clubs, which were in the midst of their early glory days.
His first tournament was the Irving Bass Club Open on Lake Fork in the fall of 1985. He cashed his first check of $50.00. The following spring he joined Century Bass Club while visiting a local boat show. Just as with the Irving Bass Club Open, his first tourney with Century was also held on Lake Fork. As with the first Fork tourney, his first tournament with Century also yielded Jon a check. This foreshadowed accomplishments of the highest order. In his second tournament with Century, then the Open Tournament, Jon cashed his second check –for 2nd place. He then won the ’87 Century Classic on Cypress Springs. Soon, Jon won two of three Century Classics and was well on his way to being one of Century’s most successful anglers.
In all, he has won at least 4 Century Classics. He has also fished with Century’s Top 6 Team at State Federation Tournaments on lakes such as Amistad (twice), Possum Kingdom, Palestine, and Lake ‘O the Pines. He is a two time Century Angler of the Year, once in 1989 and again in 2005. His regular season tournament wins are countless. The number of times he placed “in the money” is simply mind blowing.
At the end of 2005 Century Bass Club awarded Jon Harshbarger his second Angler of the Year Award. For Jon, it was a well earned victory that capped an amazing tournament season. He is also leading the Century Bass Club Top 6 Team to yet another Federation State Tournament on Lake Amistad in February, 2006. Jon readily admits his favorite area lakes are Cedar Creek and Palestine. This may have something to do with a tourney Jon fished one May on Cedar Creek, when he weighed over 25lbs of fish and his partner over 19lbs. Once the stringer was compiled, their day was over. He and his partner sat in the shade under a bridge and waited for the weigh-in. Jon recounts fellow angler Coy Frazier’s comments as he passed Jon and his partner under the bridge, “Either ya’ll have had a rough day or you just hammered ‘em!”. Jon replied, “Well, we had a pretty good day.” Frazier looked at his partner, exclaimed in frustration, and preceded to the weigh-in. Frazier recalling the story says, “Jon is just an all around good guy. When you’re fishing against him you’re up for a fierce battle but the second he steps back on shore, he’s your best friend. He’s one classy guy.”
Jon does not spend a lot of time pre-fishing. He admits to going one day the weekend prior to the off-limits period and that is it. “I don’t like to “sore-mouth” my fish”, he says. “It is just not a good idea in my opinion. Some people have the self control to simply shake off a fish, but I don’t know many who do.”
Anyone who has ever fished a tournament with Jon has surely noticed he is an incredibly focused competitor. He doesn’t have any strange rituals before fishing a tourney and he holds no superstitions. His rules are easy: “Don’t take your boat out unless it’s 100%, stay organized and stay relaxed. I spend a lot of time (off the water) sharpening hooks and keeping my tackle straight. If you’re wasting time in the bottom of your boat trying to find something, you’re missing out.” His personal motivation is simple: “To not be beat by anyone or any fish.”
The #1 rule Jon lives by he learned at a Bassmaster University class soon after he moved to the Dallas area. He recalls something Gary Klein said, “You’re not fishing against other fishermen or even the fish…You’re fishing against the clock.” “These words stuck with me more than anything else I learned during any of the 3 courses I attended”, Jon emphasizes. “In fact, I’m not sure I could tell you anything else from any one of them.”
When asked if there was a piece of advice he’d like to offer those who are new to tournament fishing the answer was easy, “Always watch what your boater is doing. If you have any questions, ask them. There’s not a guy one that won’t be willing to tell you what he’s doing and why.” He strongly believes that learning and asking questions go hand in hand.
As an angler, Jon has achieved a remarkable history with our club. Once a young man fishing strip mine ponds in Central Illinois, he is now one of the most respected anglers Century Bass Club has ever known.
My first impression of Jon was that of a man who carries himself with a straight posture, speaks with a clear tone, looks you in the eye and gives a firm handshake. It is easy to see that he is a gentleman from a mile away. When you meet him in person you’re sure to meet the very same man I did. Jon Harshbarger may be a focused and fierce competitor on the water, but above all else…He’s the consummate gentleman.