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Going pro on fishing circuit is dream of many anglers

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 5:51 p.m. CDT

My columns the last two weeks have spurred some questions. Most often I have been asked by readers, “Could I be a professional angler.”  People who enjoy fishing, and are talented at catching fish, do ponder the possibility of making it a career.

Imagine waking up and getting paid to fish tournaments all over the country. It would be awesome, right? Yes, it sure can be. Now more than ever, the possibility to make a living at catching fish can become a reality. But there are some harsh realizations to the pro fishing world that often go overlooked.

Making a living in the tournament scene is no different than trying to go pro in any sport. Athletes from baseball to bowling have to put in the time, work amazingly long hours, and go through lots of hardships to get to the pinnacle of their game.

The first hurdle that most people have to overcome is putting the cash up to finance their endeavor. When I stopped fishing tournaments at the regional level of B.A.S.S. the entry fees were $1,500 per event. The entry fees at that time for the next tier of events, the Elite Series, were $5,000 per event. Since then, depending on the tour that you fish, the entry fees may vary anywhere from around $8,000 per event to $10,000. Some of those circuits also require that you pay the entire amount up front! That’s a load of money considering you may have 6-10 events in a circuit.

The next thought that occurs to a budding angler is that they will get sponsors to pay for it. This single area was probably the biggest learning curve for me. At my peak I was actually paid cash to fish plus all of my entry fees, lodging, meals, and hotel charges were covered. A pretty sweet deal, but I had a television show to throw into the package I could offer sponsors.

To give you a quick scenario of the challenges, one time when I was having a meeting with a good friend at a lure manufacturer’s headquarters, he asked me if I wanted to have a little fun. He reached to the telephone that was dedicated for sponsorship calls and turned the ringer on. That phone never stopped. In ten minutes it must have had a dozen calls. Each person on the line was asking for money or lures because they were a tournament angler. It was at that moment I realized how lucky I was to even have sponsors.

Then, there is the actual travel and events. Life on the road is grueling — and I mean grueling. The hours are long, the miles are many and the amount of money left at gas pumps is disheartening.

For two years in a row I hit 200 nights either in a campground or a hotel. This included tournament time, sponsor obligations, and working numerous consumer shows, industry shows and traveling selling products. When my children were young they came with a lot. That was nice. By the age of eight, my oldest son had seen and traveled through 38 states. As they grew and became more involved in school I really started to miss them.

There are scores of young anglers in the marketplace. High schools and colleges have started fishing teams. These aggressive and passionate competitors are finishing school and entertaining the thought of going pro.

I know that the picture I painted might sound bleak. I just don’t want any of the young and aspiring pro anglers to go into this industry thinking it will be easy. When push comes to shove, no one with money really cares how many fish you catch. What they want to know is can you sell their product? Can you bring more money into the company than you cost them? Can you make consumers buy their product and come back for more?  This is what drives the industry. If you happen to catch a fish or two and do well in a few tournaments-so much the better.

With all that said; I miss being on the road and fishing professionally an awful lot. I wouldn’t trade the time with my family for anything though. But . . . when the kids are grown and out of the house?

Who knows.

There’s a good chance I’ll do it again. It is a great career if you are willing to work at it and besides, how cool is it to say, “I fish for a living.”

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