February 28, 2012
The life a bass pro looks appealing. But something as simple as practicing before a tournament can be draining and test the resolve of the toughest competitor.
"Everybody is on the water from daylight to dark -- every day -- and if you're not doing that you're getting behind because these guys are so good," said Tim Horton, professional bass angler who "made the break" from regional tournament angler to nationally touring pro.
Sometimes that's a 16-hour day. "And you're doing everything fast in order to not lose any time," he said. "I get so used to eating fast to get in every possible minute of practice that I have trouble sitting down with my wife and just enjoying dinner together -- even during the offseason."
The 11-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier and past president of the Professional Anglers Association said he wasn't complaining. In fact, he said he wouldn't trade the way he earns his living for anything.
Horton contends, however, that any angler who'd like to be a professional bass fisherman, whether he wants to fish PAA, BASS, FLW or another pro circuit, must ask himself if he is committed, absolutely committed, and willing to make substantial sacrifices for that shot at success.
Full-time professional anglers spend weeks at a time on the road. Off weeks between tournaments commonly are filled with media events, speaking engagements or other sponsor obligations.
When they are on the water, finding the right fish or pattern doesn't always equate with tournament success, or earning a paycheck. A host of possible obstacles stand in their way, including changed conditions, mechanical problems, competition for spots with other anglers and much more.
For anglers who are certain about their commitment, Horton's first advice is to get a college degree to provide a backup, develop a work ethic and learn about business and communications. He suggested taking classes in subjects like marketing and public speaking.
"Also, make a study out of bass fishing. Learn everything you can -- from the Internet and magazines, by watching DVDs, and in other places. Learn about fish behavior and fishing techniques in different parts of the country," Horton said.
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The information flow must go both ways, though. Along with striving to learn as much as possible, a would-be professional angler must be willing to share what he knows.
"If you are a person who wants to keep everything a secret, being a bass pro is not for you. A big part of our job is teaching -- sharing what we do and helping other anglers catch fish."
Horton also learned that a good diet and physical fitness is important. Diet and exercise affect endurance and mental sharpness, and both are critical through long days on the water when decision-making is arguably skill No. 1.
Newcomers to the pro ranks always want to know about sponsors. Horton said it's important for an angler to fish with, and represent, the products he truly believes in.
"It's easy for me to help sell Bomber crankbaits or to tell another angler how to fish one effectively in a particular situation because those are the crankbaits I have been fishing with for many years," he said. "I really like to think in terms of having 'industry partners' -- more so than sponsors -- because we work together, and the people from those companies have become my friends."
Justin Rackley, a former collegiate national champion at Texas A&M University and a relative newcomer to the professional fishing ranks, has also seen the importance of relationships with other pro anglers and others in the fishing industry.
"I realized quickly that the fishing industry is small and that everybody knows everybody," he said. "I try to treat everyone else with respect and work well with others."
As an example of shifting roles and the value of maintaining good relationships, Rackley began fishing larger tournaments as a member of the Texas A&M fishing team. He is now sponsored by the university.
Rackley has learned a tremendous amount about the industry through participation in the PAA's BassPro Shops Tournament Series presented by Carrot Styx, which he has fished for the past three years. Rackley chose the PAA series as his primary means for making the transition into professional fishing after graduating college. The decision has served him well. In addition to fishing the PAA series and some regional events, Rackley guides on Texas' legendary Lake Fork.
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Developed by anglers and for anglers, the PAA is a non-profit organization that exists to give professional anglers a unified voice in order to aid in the growth of professional bass fishing. The tournament series has allowed Rackley the opportunity to compete nationally among a field of top pro fishermen and to begin gaining the television and print exposure needed to build a sponsor base and establish a name as a pro angler.
"They do a great job of covering everyone, instead of giving all the attention to a few guys," Rackley said about the organization.
PAA president Dave Mansue believes that one of the greatest benefits of fishing the PAA tournament series, especially for young anglers, is the opportunity to compete against and interact with veteran pros.
"We have some of the legends of the sport, including BASS and FLW anglers," Mansue said. "There's no way you can fish with those guys without learning a lot about fishing and about the sport of professional bass fishing. They know where the industry has been and where it is going."