Good fishing stories are timeless, some even read a little like the archetypal hero’s journey. You find yourself pulling for the good guy: to slay the mythic dragon, or more importantly, to hook the giant fish.
You can’t help but root for a dude like Mark Daniels Jr. Fresh off his first full season on the Bassmaster Elite Series and a new endorsement deal with pioneering tackle company Z-Man Fishing, you might say Daniels’ day has come. But for this particular angler, the journey has been every bit as interesting as its outcome.
“I grew up on the shores of San Francisco Bay, where my pops took me fishing every chance he got,” recalls the likeable, Tuskegee, Alabama based angler. “We fished for anything that bit—didn’t matter. So long as it pulled our strings, we were happy.”
A few years later, Daniels’ family moved to Suisun City, California, taking him 35 miles from the bay and its fish. “Thankfully, one of my dad’s best friends, Doug Rodgers, was somewhat of a bass tournament guy. He’d take us fishing in his 16-foot Bayliner, and right away, something about bass just clicked.
“From age five or six, I was absolutely glued to Hank Parker, Bill Dance and the Bassmasters on TV. I’d flip through Bass Pro Shops’ enormous catalog non-stop, always trying to scrounge together enough money for a box of new tackle. Eventually, I discovered some local bass ponds where I could fish all these cool lures. Can’t tell you how many times I made that two-mile walk. Man, I was hooked.”
Following years of weekend bass derbies, Daniels’ tenacity resulted in a big win at the 2013 Bass Federation Championship. Part of the prize package earned him the so-called Living the Dream Package. “The Bass Federation doesn’t get enough credit for this awesome program,” notes Daniels. “The Federation paid all my entry fees on the FLW Tour for a year, plus a truck and boat and travel expenses. Basically, they made it possible for a typical blue-collar American to fish for a living. That was the beginning of everything for me — I’ve been living the dream ever since!"
Following years of different sponsorships—some good, some Daniels chalked up to ‘learning experiences,’ the energetic angler met the folks at Z-Man Fishing. The connection was immediate.
“I knew immediately, after following Mark a few years back when he was featured on FLW’s Circuit Breaker series that he was someone we needed to work with,” says Daniel Nussbaum, President of Z-Man Fishing. “Mark projects just an awesome positive energy and a passion for tournament fishing. He’s a tremendously skilled angler—his fast-rising career on the Bassmaster Elite Series is certainly rivaled by his ability to connect with fans and enthusiastically promote his sponsors.
“We’re really looking forward to working with Mark on new bait designs as we continue to broaden the Z-Man product line.”
Daniels adds: “One thing I’ve realized is that relationships matter more than anything. Making money in tournaments and sponsorships is nice. But connecting with truly great companies and solid, honorable people is everything.”
“I like that Z-Man is different. Their products are so inventive—outside the box and awesome fish-catchers. I mean, nothing they do is “me-too.” Everyone knows about the Chatterbait, right? Totally different deal, and deadly. But when my buddy and fellow bass pro Brian Latimer turned me on to some of their finesse baits — Finesse TRD, Hula StickZ, TrickShotZ — it changed my world.
“I’ve got a Finesse TRD on my rod right now that’s still ticking after fifty-plus catches. How crazy is that?”