Jamey Caldwell is a certified badass.
He served in the U.S. Army for seven years with the 75th Ranger Regiment, then another 14 years with an Army Special Missions Unit that maintained a high operational tempo in dangerous places like Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. During his military career, Caldwell was deployed to combat 14 times and carried out more than 500 missions.
Aside from his bravery and dedication to the mission (which earned him three medals for valorous actions in combat while under direct fire from the enemy), Caldwell is also a very serious slayer of bass.
Since first hitting the Bassmasters tournament trail in 2011, Caldwell has officially landed well over 800 pounds of largemouth lunkers during competition.
Free Range American caught up with Caldwell while he was on the road to Lake Champlain — heading for the New York/Vermont border to catch smallmouths — to chat about how he got into the world of professional bass fishing and why he loves the sport so much.
Start ʼEm Young
It should come as no surprise that someone with Caldwell’s mad angling skills has been obsessed with fishing since he was a young kid.
“I’ve fished my whole life,” Caldwell told FRA. “I grew up in Connecticut, mostly trout fishing and fly fishing with a little bit of pond and bass fishing, but not a ton of it.”
As a kid, all Caldwell wanted to do was fish and join the Army. In 1993, just months before his high school graduation, Caldwell signed his name on the dotted line to become a single-channel radio operator with a Ranger contract.
“My first duty assignment was in Georgia. I was stationed with First Ranger Battalion down in Savannah. That’s where I really started getting into bass fishing,” Caldwell explained.
Knowing how much Caldwell loved fishing, a friend clued him in on a local bass club that sponsored small tournaments where members could compete against each other for money.
“I was immediately hooked,” Caldwell said.
“I was in the military, jumping out of planes and doing all that adrenaline junkie stuff. This took my passion for fishing, combined it with racing boats, betting money, and a competition aspect, and it was awesome. I knew this was my new world.”
While many people plan on spending their retirement drowning worms on some relaxing body of water, Caldwell took both fishing and retirement far more seriously than the average hang-loose retiree.
“From early on in my military career, I looked at fishing as my retirement plan,” Caldwell said. “I’m going to do my military time, and then once I’m done, I’ll be a professional bass angler. That’s what I’ll do for the rest of my life.”
With a plan in mind, Caldwell set out to make his pro-angling retirement a reality. While still on active duty, he started fishing a bunch of lower-level tournaments and focused on getting sponsorships.
“My last few years in the military is when I officially turned pro. I was getting closer to retirement. I wasn’t deploying as much. That’s when I jumped in and started fishing the professional trail,” he said.
Caldwell was introduced to Black Rifle Coffee Company CEO Evan Hafer through their mutual friend Kyle Lamb at the 2017 SHOT Show. The coffee company, which also owns FRA, quickly came on board as his primary sponsor.
“I have much respect for what he does,” Hafer said. “Jamey is a tactician in whatever he does. He goes deep into what he loves. You have to respect that.”
Jamey Caldwell: Moving Forward by Fishing
Caldwell retired from the Army in 2014 and credited the pro-fishing circuit for helping him transition to civilian life.
“I was so used to getting up early and having this schedule, and when that was gone, I got in this slump. A lot of people do when they get out, and some of them get stuck in it,” Caldwell said.
“But fishing gave me that schedule. It gave me the camaraderie I was used to with an association of like-minded guys. And at the level I was competing in, it was a lot like the unit I was in in the military. Everybody had gone through numerous selections and had volunteered numerous times to be there. Everybody wanted to be there and worked hard to get there, so it was very similar.”
Although Caldwell spends a lot of time fishing, his life is still pretty fast-paced for a retiree. Besides running the professional fishing tournament circuit, Caldwell leads the BRCC fishing division.
He also owns the training company 1 Minute Out, which has him traveling the country and helping government teams and local law enforcement keep up to speed with night vision tools and tactics.
But Caldwell thrives on that fast-paced lifestyle.
“I did over 21 years in the military, and all of it was in special operations. The op tempo that we held was so fast,” Caldwell explained. “We used the analogy of ‘the train never stops.’”
“We had to master a lot of different trades. We had to be masters of not only shooting a gun but also jumping out of airplanes, assaulting various targets, and doing many different tasks. I’m so used to that, that even in retirement, I needed that.
“Bass fishing is great. I love it. There are so many aspects to it that keep me engaged, whether it’s sponsor commitments, shooting video content, or being on the water and just fishing for educational purposes.”
For Caldwell, fishing may be relaxing, but it’s still serious business.
“Most people who go fishing with me never want to fish with me again,” Caldwell said. “Fishing is relaxing to me, and I love it, but it’s work. It’s a grind. I get out on the water and treat it like a challenge. It keeps my mind engaged. I’m constantly moving around on the lake or river, trying to find fish and find what makes them hit.
“That’s what’s exciting for me. It’s just like being on a deployment, having to outsmart the enemy and stay one step ahead of them. Bass, to me, are the same way.”