Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

June 21, 2014

‘I love it, it’s in my blood’

Patrol lieutenant takes time to enjoy his passion for fishing

TAZEWELL, Va. — When Lt. Jonathan Hankins of the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office isn’t serving the public, he’s enjoying and refining his passion for competitive bass fishing.

Hankins, now 34, joined the sheriff’s office on a part-time basis in 2006, and became a full-time member of the law enforcement agency in 2008. His career in law enforcement began in 2003 when he worked for the department of corrections. Since that time, Hankins has taken on more responsibilities.

“I’m a patrol lieutenant,” Hankins said of his current post. “I’m also an accreditation manager. We have standards we have to meet to stay accredited. It’s a very big honor to be an accredited agency; not all law enforcement agencies are accredited.”

As a lieutenant, Hankins helps oversee day-to-day operations at the sheriff’s office, and he is also a general instructor.

“I help teach at the Southwest Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy, and I’m certified to teach defensive tactics, standardized field sobriety testing, ASP baton, and OC, which is pepper spray,” he said.

Hankins’ work at the sheriff’s office has not gone unrecognized.

“I was the 2010 Deputy of the Year and graduated from the Professional Leadership Academy in 2013,” Hankins recalled. He also received a Medal of Valor after a tragic incident in 2011 when two Buchanan County deputies were killed in a shooting incident; two other deputies were seriously wounded. Hankins credited Sheriff Brian Hieatt and his fellow deputies for their support.

“Our sheriff is great. He’s given me many opportunities,” Hankins said. He also credited a higher power. “I would like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for His many blessings on my life.  Without Him none of these accomplishments would be possible. I truly enjoy working for the Tazewell County Sheriff's Office. It is an honor to work for such a great agency.”  

When Hankins isn’t on duty, he has a love of fishing to help occupy his time. He doesn’t consider himself a professional fisherman since he doesn’t make his living by focusing on competitive fishing. He does, however, enjoy competing in bass tournaments. Fishing became part of his life at an early age.

“I’ve pretty been fishing my entire life,” Hankins said. “About the age of 13, I started going to tournaments. I fished with the Hillbilly Bass Masters out of Bluefield, Va.; it’s a local club.”

Hankins fished at his first tournament on Lake Norman in North Carolina when he was about 16 years old. He did not win, but he decided to keep competing.

“I finished next to last,” he said when remembering that first tournament. “I went into the mindset that I’m going to do better. That first year was a mind opening experience. I took my lumps.”

Coming in next to last did not dampen his enthusiasm for bass fishing.

“I love it. It’s in my blood,” Hankins stated. “It’s something I’ve done competitively the last 19 years. I like the competition.”

Getting to the tournaments takes a lot of effort and planning; not all of these competitions are close to Tazewell County.

“It’s a whole lot of travel. I have been to South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.,” he recalled. “I’ve fished in the Potomac River. I fished All American in 2012.”

Hankins was a co-angler when he first started competing because he did not own a boat at the time. This means he fished out of the back of a boat with another club member. He learned while he competed, and then he won his first competition.

“I won my first club tournament in May 1998,” he said. “You never forget your first one...in 2003, I bought my first boat, and then I started competing as a boater in the local club.”

Winners of tournaments are determined by the total weight of the bass that they catch.

“The heaviest catch, the heaviest totals,” Hankins said of the standard. “Most of them are a five-fish limit.” The largest bass he has ever caught weighed 5 pounds, 4 ounces, and his heaviest catch with the five-fish limit was 20 pounds and 3 ounces.

In 2007, Hankins began competing in the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, “and that’s through the FLW (Fishing League Worldwide), which is a major tournament organization,” he said.

Hankins later moved into other divisions in the Tennessee lakes. Different divisions have different lakes, and a lake in Tennessee will “fish” different than a lake in North Carolina, he said. Competitors can fish for small mouth, large mouth and spotted bass.

“In 2011, I qualified for the regional championship, and that was held on Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta, Va., and I finished third,” Hankins said. “The Lord blessed me to do that. The top six out of the regional championship qualified for the All American...and I fished the All American in May of 2012 on the Potomac. That is the top 49 out of thousands who begin this journey, the top boaters and co-anglers. I finished 43 out of 49. Just to make the All American was a true blessing, and that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was just happy to be there.”

Preparing for a bass tournament is time consuming. Competitors do a lot of map and Internet research. Unlike other sports, bass fishing does not have an off season, he said.

“When you’re not at a fishing tournament, you’re preparing for the next season,” Hankins stated. “I’ve moved up. I’m a boater now and kind of stair stepping my way up the ladder. Right now I’m currently ranked 18 out of 148.”

Hankins said he now wants to keep stair stepping, learning and advancing in tournaments. Hankins and his wife, Melissa, attend Tazewell Family Worship Center.

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