UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Dale Hollow Lake

Less Stress and More Fun

Less Stress and More Fun
AJ Slegona

Hailing from Pine Bush, N.Y., AJ Slegona battled through an up-and-down season on the FLW Tour in 2019, finishing 97th in the standings at year’s end. With a top 10 at Champlain in the season finale, Slegona also cashed at Cherokee Lake and Lake Toho, but he threw up triple-digit finishes the rest of the way, which left him a lot farther down in the standings than he’s used to.

However, Slegona thinks he knows how to improve, and if he can pull off a better season in the FLW Pro Circuit, he’s got a shot to do big things in the FLW TITLE championship on the St. Lawrence at the end of the year.

 

AJ Slegona, Ryan Ingalls

The beginnings  

After qualifying for the FLW Tour out of the FLW Series Northern Division for the second time in 2018, Slegona finally had the money lined up and hit the big leagues. So, he pointed his Tundra and Skeeter toward Texas in December to start an adventure that was a lifetime in the making.

“When I was younger, my father used to take me fishing, and I just became obsessed with the sport. I just could never get enough of it,” says Slegona. “I remember during summer breaks in school I would spend my entire summer riding a bicycle from lake to lake around the house.

“When I was 15 years old, I bought a motorized scooter and I strapped a tackle box to a floor of the scooter,” says Slegona. “Then I could get to the lakes a lot quicker, with less effort.”

Slegona started fishing junior events in high school and bought his first bass boat at 19 years old, just out of high school. He fished his first B.A.S.S. Open at 23 and his first FLW Series event two years later in 2016.

Slegona isn’t exactly the typical pro angler. Not only did he reach the pro level from the northeast, but he’s done it on a pretty tight budget.

“I don’t really come from money; this all came from a construction income, and somehow I made it here,” says Slegona. “I worked construction right out of high school as a sandhog in the subway tunnels of New York City for three years until I got laid off. After that, I basically said ‘screw it,’ and started fishing the qualifiers, trying to get to the next level.”

As he’s fished his way up, Slegona worked for MDS HVAC-R, which turned into his title sponsor for his first year on Tour. Hintze Belts, another of Slegona’s sponsors, is a tool belt company started by one of the people he worked underneath New York City with.

 

AJ Slegona

A tough first season

Slegona’s first go on the FLW Tour in 2019 could have been a disaster, but his top 10 to finish the year raised his average and his bank account. To top it off, he made checks and one top 10 in two FLW Series Northern Division events after that to effectively put a feel-good bow on the year.

“Going into the FLW Tour season, obviously it's a big step up from the FLW Series and the Opens,” says Slegona. “The cost and everything is so much higher, and the pressure is a lot higher. Stepping up to the Tour level was almost like my first year of fishing the FLW Series and the Opens again.”

Heading south in December, Slegona stayed on the road for six months without getting a regular paycheck or sleeping in his own bed.

“I really didn't have enough money in my account going down there to know if I was going to be able to compete for the whole season. It was really stressful,” he says. “I was sleeping in the truck most nights, living on a very small budget. So, going into the tournaments, I felt so pressured that I needed to catch them that it actually hurt me. It was hard to deal with that mental pressure.”

Slegona has largely done very well in triple-A events, but his 2015 season in the B.A.S.S. Opens was not great, and he thinks the pressure then was comparable to his first season as a pro. 

“I’m usually a very free-flowing fisherman,” says Slegona. “Whatever the conditions are, I adjust and I do my thing and I'm confident in what I do and I catch them. But going to those new lakes under that kind of pressure, I caught myself spinning out and trying to get all over the place. I was doing too much research and not just fishing natural, and that hurt me a little bit. I feel like it took me until midway into the season to finally overcome that stress and start catching them.”

 

AJ Slegona

Home again

After a triple-digit finish at Lake Chickamauga, Slegona headed back north for his last Tour event of the year, a semi-hometown showdown on Lake Champlain.

“I’d had an on-and-off season, but going into that one, I felt really comfortable and I just fished so natural in that event,” says Slegona, who finished eighth. “It opened my eyes to not put so much pressure on myself and just go out and have fun. That's the reason we're all out here in the first place – because we enjoy it. When you have negative thoughts and you put that much pressure on yourself, you can't expect yourself to catch them.

“Guys like Bryan Thrift and Scott Martin and Buddy Gross are out there enjoying themselves and feeling good, and you can't compete with them with a bad mental attitude,” says Slegona. “Going into next season, I feel a lot more laid-back and confident. I'm going to let whatever happens happen and have a lot more fun with it, regardless of what the outcome could be.”

 

AJ Slegona

Making it

Fishing his sophomore season as a pro in the inaugural season of the FLW Pro Circuit, Slegona is still trying to make this pro fishing thing work.

“To me, making a full-time living in professional bass fishing is near impossible, which is the way with any professional sport,” says Slegona, acknowledging that only the most talented make it long at the top level of anything. “I could be close, or I could be far away, it depends on how well I do on the water. A big-paying sponsor could be right around the corner, or it could be years away. I just don't know.

“But, my goal in 2020 is less stress and more fun,” he adds. “To not worry about the mental pressures, and enjoy the full season and see how far I can actually go when I fish confidently. I want to hopefully make the FLW TITLE championship at the St. Lawrence, where I’ve had a lot of success over the years. I want to do some big things.”

Big things could very well be in store for Slegona if all goes well. Though it means looking ahead a bit, he’s basically never had a bad tournament on the St. Lawrence, and he got over the hump at the triple-A level in style.

But, even if it doesn’t all come together, Slegona’s going to make sure he takes advantage of the ride.

“At the end of the day, I'm still out here fishing, not working in the subway tunnels or swinging a hammer,” says Slegona. “Definitely, going into next year, I'm going to be more appreciative of that and try to enjoy myself even if I'm not catching them.”

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