Like the largemouths he passionately bird-dogs, Jon Gunzel is hooked on tournament bass fishing.
So much so, that the former Payson High School football and track and field star recently purchased a high tech, state of the art bass boat that will enable him to continue pursuing a professional fishing career.
Gunzel's first tournament fishing appearance as a "boater," rather than a tag-a-long in a pro's boat, turned into a booming success.
March 25 in a JackAz bass tournament at Roosevelt Lake, Gunzel and his brother-in-law Peter Licavoli fished their way to a third place finish and $400 in prize money.
"That was kind of exciting for both of us," Gunzel said.
The fishing team weighed in a limit of 12.93 pounds that included one largemouth that tipped the scales at 3.31 pounds.
With the bronze medal finish sewed up, Gunzel's plans are to continue on the tournament trail including stops in September at the prestigious U.S. Open on Lake Mead.
"It is a tough tournament, a test of endurance," Gunzel said.
The Rim Country angler is no stranger to the Open, having fished it in September 2005 as an amateur.
His eighth place finish in the field of 200-plus anglers was just the confidence boost he needed to set his sights on professional fishing.
"That was the one (tournament) that really got me started," he said. "After that it (competitive fishing) kind of grew on me and I learned I had a knack for it."
Gunzel's resume also includes an appearance in the 2005 Bassmaster Western Open, held in the California Delta. There, he finished 24th among the amateurs.
Prior to both the U.S. Open and the Western Open, Gunzel pre-fished both alongside former PHS classmate Clifford Pirch --ow a veteran on the professional circuits including the nationally televised FLW tour and series.
"Clifford is the one that really got me interested," Gunzel said. "He's helped me a lot."
As much as Pirch encouraged Gunzel in the sport, the former Longhorn sports standout's fishing roots go back to his high school years in the early 1990s.
"My dad (Steve Gunzel) took me fishing at Roosevelt and I liked it, but I was not very good," he said. "Besides, I was more interested in football and track in those days.
"Now, my goals are set on (tournament) fishing."