By C.C. McCotter
In just about every edition of Woods & Waters we offer a W2 Profile featuring the men and women that set the standard in our hunting and fishing community. They are innovators, conservationists, influencers, businesspeople and inspirers to all who meet them, and we love to bring you their stories. This is a special W2 Profile on a man who’s been setting the standard for many years in the tournament director/visionary category. He not only runs (with a talented team) Virginia’s most prestigious bass fishing trail, he’s a husband and father and works a regular job… and now he’s poised to start another trail with the biggest prize money in Virginia!
We were fortunate to catch up with Steve Camp of the VAElite70 and Alpha Series Elite trails. We started out by asking the Mechanicsville resident why he decided to start the Alpha Series.
“After 15 years I decided to start a new individual bass fishing trail because, quite frankly, there was a need for it. With all of the ups and downs we all have seen in the local, regional and national pro/co-angler tournaments and the growing frustrations with participation and payouts, I felt it was time to take to a proven model and look to start a premiere solo series that could give the anglers in the mid-Atlantic region something that would put to rest some of the challenges we have faced – a solo tournament that gave anglers another viable option to compete that truly focuses on the anglers and the payouts,” Camp explained.
We also wondered why he does it – continue to operate a demanding tournament series that draws the best anglers in the state and region.
“I like running the Elite 70 because, like we’ve talked about in the past, I enjoy the anglers, their families and the relationships that have been formed over the past 15 years of running various tournaments. The Elite team and I are so incredibly fortunate and beyond blessed to have the support of our teams, partners and sponsors. We love the fact we get to be a part of a team’s best day on the water. There are so many special moments that we all get to be a part of with the trail. The teams are 100% the reason for the success of the series and the reason that we do it.”
Camp also told W2 why he thought bass tournaments remain so popular.
“Competitive bass fishing remains popular because it’s timeless and the men and woman who chase the lil’ green and brown fish are addicted and obsessed with them, Camp said, “I also still think we are seeing the residual growth from the 2020 pandemic. People have discovered or rediscovered fishing and the outdoors. Partner that with everything we would ever want to know at our fingertips; YouTube, live streaming of tournaments, it’s everywhere. I do think that the learning curve is so much more accelerated because of it, and you are seeing those results in all of the regional and national level tournaments.”
So why are his tournaments so popular with full fields and waiting lists each year?
“Competitive bass fishing is available at so many levels. Weekday Wildcats, evening tournaments, club tournaments, Federation tournaments, regional and national tournaments; whatever your budget, it’s open to you. Aside from professional golf, what other sport can you get on the same playing field as the pros and fish the same water, have the same baits, line, rod and reels? Also, when you get old and chunky like me, you realize that fishing is one of the only things that you can still be competitive in…”
Camp maintains an active social media group site for his VAElite70 trail. We asked why he does that?
“I think it’s important in today’s age to maintain a social media presence. The things that you and I grew up on are soon to be things of the past. Our generation and the younger generations are so dialed in to social media. Most everyone is on one of the platforms and we strive to meet our anglers where they want to be communicated with. We have had a lot of luck with Facebook, where we share a lot of tournament news, requests for help and prayer requests and we rally around anglers and families in need. This year, with the addition of Alpha series, we are going to try and add a few other social media things during official practice and during the tournaments. I think you may also see us jumping into a few podcasts or a YouTube channel or two. It’s going to be fun, and the team and I are looking forward to it.”
Of course, everyone wants to know what goes into Camp’s selection of the tournament waters and why did he add the Chowan River this season?
“A lot really goes into the schedules. When we originally set up the series the goal was to set up a trail that got the talent from VA/NC border (Buggs) and VA (James River) and VA/MD (Potomac) to go “all-in” for the original three events. As we grew, we wanted to hit the best bodies in the region knowing that we would continue to expand our footprint. In addition to the locations, we try to schedule our series to hit those bodies where anglers and teams could potentially have the bags of their lives. Sometimes we do, and other times it seems that we are a week or two early or late. But it the same for everyone, and our teams never disappoint.
“As for the Chowan (and other rivers on the sound), it’s an amazing fishery. We’ve toyed with going there a year or so ago. It just felt like the right time. I’m excited to see how our teams will do there. It should be a slugfest with a ton of 20+ pound bags. I’m really looking forward to that one. I think that area will get blown up after the BPT competes there next year.”
We asked Camp to complete the sentence: The Alpha Series will be different from all other individual tournament series because….
“As we hit on in an earlier question, I feel that it was time for a very transparent higher entry fee tournament series. Something that we can prove out and see logistically how it work and possibly expand with more events and/or locations in ‘25. It has been very well received as we have folks from VA, NC, MD, PA, SC that registered for our inaugural season.
“Soon after we released our plans, the calls and emails started coming in from places all over the mid-Atlantic and honestly, the country. I think there are a lot of folks paying attention to how this goes.
“As you know, there are a lot of opportunities and holes in the solo/pro area; the entries are getting higher and the payouts are either staying the same or decreasing. I think the offering we have will allow those that want to stay closer to home but still compete with some of the best around on what we try to make the most level playing field (off limits and one official practice day) with a great payback!”
So what does his devoted wife and spiritual advisor, Candice say to him when he’s tired and worn out and wondering is it all worth it?
“I usually don’t complain too much but am tired and worn out most every day. I think the difference we make and those we are able to help out while pulling off a premiere team tournament series keeps us coming back. The team and family that we have with us, is really the key to all that we do.
“Blake Sharp is my tournament partner, the VP of the Elites and one of my best friends. He has to listen to more nonsense and everything else that comes out of my mouth. He’s another one that makes all of this possible. There aren’t many people that would want to come in early from a derby to being the weighmaster for our tournaments. He does, and never ever complains. He, along with the team and Candice are the secret sauce to the success of this trail. I can’t do it without them, and I’m pretty sure they could do it without me. I just sign checks! The entire staff, Candice, Blake, Snookie, Alex, Paige, Lexi, Chesden, Brooklyn, Tanner and Jackson are the absolute best and make it all possible.”
We asked Camp what’s it like working with his tournament sponsors?
“They are the best. I’ve been very fortunate to have the partnership with these folks for most all of my tournament ventures. They are always there asking what they can do to help, and I feel that we are there to help them as well.
“I look at sponsorship as a partnership. There are so many folks trying to get things from all of the endemic and non-endemic companies all across the mid-Atlantic. My goal along with the staff, and even our anglers are to increase sales for all of our sponsors. Whether it’s boats from Mare, all the latest fishing tackle from Green Top, MadBassin Tackle, power washing from KO Pressure Washing, roofs from Mueller Builders, etc., our goal is to help them grow as well.
“In addition to all of the help, the relationship I have with them is so important when I talk about new ventures and expansion. Richard and the team at Mare have helped with all of our contingency programs and making sure our guys are taken care of. The team at Phoenix has been with us every step of the way and are incredible to work with.”
Camp enjoys fishing as well. We asked him what’s it like competing against the best in the state?
“Man, it’s humbling more times than not. You can’t have a bad day with these teams/anglers. They are some of the most talented anglers around. When you blast off at one of the team events, you look over at classic champions, current and former touring pros, multiple All-American winners and qualifiers, folks that have won on the big stages and some of the best up and coming young guns that you will be hearing more about soon. Our trail is stacked from top to bottom. So, cashing a check and having some good finishes go a long way. When you do, you’ve earned it. The Alpha series is going to have the same feel with a bit more payout.”
Each year Camp names one of the Elite70 events the Jackson Hudson Memorial Tournament. We asked about the significant of that designation.
“Aside from my father, Jackson was one of the most influential people to me in bass fishing. There have been a lot of folks that I have crossed paths with that have helped to mold me as a person and an angler. Jackson not only influenced me, but he influenced a lot of the folks in our area. Not only influenced us, but took a bunch of our money and left us all scrambling for 2nd place. All kidding aside. He was the first to congratulate you, share info with you and generally be there for you.
“Jackson and his wife, Marty Hudson, were always a part of every series that I ran or started. I felt that when he and Frank Poirier joined the FOM trail back when I was leading it, it added a lot of credibility to the series and got the attention of a lot of anglers back then. When I started the Elite 70, he and Frank Williams fished with us. He was always there. When he passed, I wanted to do something for Jackson that would help his name and legacy live on. So, every year when we fish Buggs, one of his favorite places and “home” lake, we have named it the Jackson Hudson Memorial tournament. We do different trophies and invite Marty and the Hudson family down to celebrate Jackson with us. We have also been presenting scholarships for the last two years in his name.”
So what’s Camp’s favorite water to visit with the Elite 70 teams?
“Wow, that’s a tough one. I love going to Anna. Last year we did a happy hour and Karaoke night at The Cove. It was a blast, and we are looking forward to doing it again. Buggs is also another fun one. We rent out a bunch of the cabins and lodges at the State Park and get a bunch of people together. I’m starting to turn into a big fan of SML, too. It’s an amazing place and great fishery. The Chowan may turn into the next favorite.”
Camp’s family has grown up with VA Elite 70, and we asked him how has that been?
“It’s been great. Candice is 1000% my rock. We both have pretty demanding full-time jobs, but this is a passion of ours. A big part of the series is our giving back, providing scholarships, and trying to leave things better than we found it. It’s important to us for our boys to see it, help out and get something from this. Our 10-year-old is already waiting for me to retire so he can run the show. He’s a natural and loves being a part of it. We are thankful that the teams have all been there and support him and the rest of the family and our incredible staff. It’s like one big fishing family!”