- Louie Stout
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Most first dates are dinner and a movie. Unless it's a first date with a hard-core bass fisherman. Then a girl might find herself in a bass boat talking about spinnerbaits and bass behavior, which was exactly where Jill Montgomery found herself at the age of 22, when Jay Yelas asked her out for the first time.
When they arrived at a nearby Arizona lake, Jay did exactly what most bass fishermen would do to begin a date. He put Jill inside the bass boat, backed it down the launch ramp and let his pride and joy slide into the water. Then he drove back up the ramp to park the truck.
"There I was, bobbing around in this really crowded lake and getting in the way of other boaters," recalled Jill. "Then he yells for me to put down the trolling motor. And I yelled back: What's a trolling motor?"
They had met a few days earlier when Jay had leased an apartment from her agency. She was attracted to his innocence, finding him quite different from the young corporate types she had met.
"He really wasn't into the dating scene," she said. "I found that to be a breath of fresh air."
But as she drifted helplessly in the boat, Jay's lack of etiquette left her wilting faster than a rose petal under the hot desert sun.
"I thought: 'Who is this guy?' He thinks I'm going to turn into a bassin' babe through osmosis? I'm never going out with him again."
The boat was eventually corralled and Jay jumped aboard. They raced to a fishing hole, and Jill caught a 3 1/2-pound bass on her first cast. Maybe this isn't so bad after all, she thought. He earned a second chance.
"Divine providence," she grinned. "I know that now."
Life as a bass pro's wife the past 11 years has been full of interesting turns with plenty of peaks and valleys along the way. Many memories came rushing back in the hours following her husband's monumental victory at the 2002 CITGO BASS Masters Classic in Birmingham.
"It was a struggle at first. But we always had enough (money) to continue. We slept in our van at a lot of tournaments. Jay's a good businessman and as his success grew, so did sponsor support."
No decision was tougher than the one they made together a few years ago. Rather than travel with Jay on the tournament trail, as she had done for 10 years, Jill would stay home with the children.
With their first child, Hannah, headed to school, they thought it best for mom to remain behind with her and 4-year-old Bethany.
"We could have home-schooled Hannah and stayed on the road, but I felt it was important to enroll her in a Christian school," Jill explained.
"It was very difficult at first. I became the all-purpose housewife, solving all of the household problems and taking care of the children while he was gone. It was a major challenge."
So challenging, in fact, that Jill admits to moments when she focused on herself and wallowed in self-pity.
"But then I refocused on God and how this was His plan for our lives," she noted. "That gave me peace. I no longer feel neglected. I don't mind being in the background praying and taking care of the kids. Jay and I are a team, and this is my role."
That's good, because the next few years will likely become more engaging. A full tournament schedule, personal appearances and sponsor obligations that accompany the Classic title will demand even more time from her husband's soaring career.
"Jay talked with Mark Davis and Kevin VanDam and they both offered the same advice: Protect your time for family because everyone is going to want a piece of it. I'm not too concerned, because the family is always a priority with Jay."
So much, in fact, that the former University of Oregon graduate schedules "date" night with his children. On a given night, Yelas and either Hannah or Bethany have a night out together with dad. Just the two of them.
"The girls have an emotional bond with their dad," described Jill. "That's important because when the father has an emotional bond with his children, the kids are secure. They get upset when he goes on the road, but they know he loves them and will be coming back."
Fame struck fast for the Yelas family.
Upon their return home from Birmingham, Yelas was receiving roughly 50 calls a day from well-wishers. And "Jay Yelas Day" was proclaimed in his new hometown of Tyler, Texas, where he was given the key to the city. But the newfound herolike status won't change her husband, Jill said.
"Jay became a celebrity, and we suddenly have a million new friends," she grinned. 'We know fame and fortune comes and goes, but really, all Jay wants is his legacy to show that he was a positive influence on people and the sport of bass fishing."
2dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne