To say that Strike King pro James Niggemeyer was a tired man last week in Orlando would be a bit of an understatement.
After all, it was the final day of ICAST 2014 in Orlando and Niggemeyer, the popular Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Van, Texas, had shaken a thousand hands, smiled a thousand smiles and given countless interviews like the one I was seeking.
But for the 1,001st time during the week, Niggemeyer put a smile on his face, sat down in the Strike King booth (www.strikeking.com) and said “What can I do to help you?”
Because such is the business of fishing and ironically enough, that topic was exactly what I wanted to talk with Niggemeyer about.
The business side of fishing that is, as seen through the eyes of a pro angler fighting hard this season for a coveted spot in the Bassmaster Classic, working the ICAST Show diligently for his sponsors, and trying to do so in a timely fashion.
Timely enough so that Niggemeyer would be able to get back home to Texas in time to celebrate his daughter Abigail’s sixth birthday.
“Being in this sport can make it tough to manage the competition side of things, the business side of things and the family side of things,” said Niggemeyer, a 42-year-old pro who guides on Texas’ famed Lake Fork when he isn’t competing on tour (www.jamesniggemeyer.com).
“But that’s the life of a pro angler,” he added with a smile.
For Niggemeyer, the life of a pro bass angler was something that he dreamed of while growing up and fishing out west. The dream became an even greater one when he started competing and doing well in regional tournaments.
And one day, the dream became a reality when he had a life-changing conversation with Major League Fishing and B.A.S.S. pro Dean Rojas.
“Dean and I used to fish a ton of team tournaments together,” said Niggemeyer. “He went on to the B.A.S.S. tournament circuits and was doing well. We drew each other in a tournament a few years later and he said to me, ‘What are you doing? You’re good enough to be out here doing this?”
That pushed over the first domino in Niggemeyer’s pro fishing career timeline.
Then fast forward to a conversation a bit later with former Classic champ and current MLF fishing star Mark Davis.
“Mark kind of told me something similar and that what I needed to become a professional bass pro was time on the water and the best way to get that was to guide,” said Niggemeyer.
But where to guide was another question.
After talking with Rojas some more – along with Lance Vick (a popular Lake Fork guide and part-time tournament pro) and former Lake Fork guide and current MLF champion Kelly Jordon – Niggemeyer took a leap of faith and relocated to Texas in 2001.
“It was a great move,” said Niggemeyer. “Not only have I been able to guide on one of the world’s premiere trophy bass fisheries (Lake Fork) and learn more about catching fish in all kinds of conditions, but it put me closer to the heart of the action in the tournament angling game.”
As Niggemeyer built his fish catching knowledge and worked hard, successes have followed with four wins on the B.A.S.S. tournament circuits. This season, he has been close to winning on the Bassmaster Elite Series and is involved in a dogfight for one of the final berths available in the 2015 Classic.
That building success is giving Niggemeyer a bigger presence in the game, both on the water and in the business side of things.
“Success on the water and success off the water really go hand-in-hand,” said Niggemeyer. “You have to have some level of success to be attractive to sponsors. And the more of that you have, the more exposure you can gain for your sponsors and you become an even more valuable asset to them.”
But success on the water isn’t the only ingredient in attracting, and keeping, sponsors according to Niggemeyer.
“You also have to believe in and be able to successfully promote their products,” he said. “You helping them increase their sales is really the proof in the pudding as to your value to your sponsors.”
In Niggemeyer’s case, being able to push products for a sponsor and help their sales increase starts and ends with a big dose of integrity.
Meaning he has to find a product beneficial before he will use it, endorse it and tell others about it at seminars, during in-store appearances, and in Niggemeyer’s most recent business venture, the teaching platform of “Pro Bass Class” (www.probassclass.com).
“Integrity is very important to me,” he said. “You have to believe in the product that you are promoting. You have to use it and feel it is an important part of your angling success. Otherwise, people can see right through you.”
Over the last several years, as Niggemeyer’s professional career has risen, so have his opportunities to build key relationships with sponsors like Strike King.
“Being a part of their team has given me exposure through such things as the Strike King Pro Team Journal (on Outdoor Channel),” said Niggemeyer.
“Being on the TV shows, in some Strike King commercials, and through other media opportunities, it helps me grow my brand and personality along with their brand (and industry presence).”
And that has led Niggemeyer to even more sponsor opportunities, including his recent deal with Ranger Bass Boats earlier this year.
“Whether they are big or small, all sponsors are important,” said Niggemeyer. “They are kind of like a stock portfolio; you need both big investments along with smaller investments to reach your financial goals.
“I feel that way about my sponsors, that they are all important to my career (and its success). Because of that, I want to say ‘Thank you’ to them as often as I can and in as many ways as I can.”
Earlier in his career, events like ICAST were important venues to help the Texas pro visit with potential sponsors and to enter into business relationships with them.
Today, with a good portfolio of sponsors in place for Niggemeyer, such shows are as much about helping his existing sponsors succeed on the show floor and in doing the work necessary to maintain good business relationships.
“The relationship aspect of all of this is huge and I work hard to maintain those relationships,” said Niggemeyer. “It all begins when you believe in their product and then it grows from there into more of a friendship than a partnership.”
With a solid list of sponsors in place to help Niggemeyer in his quest to become one of the sport’s top angling pros, does he feel any pressure to perform on the water at a tournament venue?
Yes, he says, but not for the reasons that most would think.
“First and foremost, I’m a competitor and no one can ever put more pressure on me, than me, when it comes to doing well and winning,” said Niggemeyer. “But then you also want to give back to someone who believes in you and has invested in you and your dreams.”
Niggemeyer said that at the end of the day, tournament angling is a solo endeavor in some aspects, meaning that when a weigh-in is done, an angler can only look in the mirror and congratulate, or blame, himself for what happened out on the water.
But at the same time, it’s also without question a team sport with people like Niggemeyer’s wife of nearly 11 years, Sandy; his two children Abigail and Daniel; and his sponsors that help put the Texas pro into position to succeed.
“My wife, there’s never been anyone that is more supportive of me or my career and my career dreams than Sandy is,” said Niggemeyer. “I know that’s going to sound like I’m trying to score some brownie points, but it’s really true.
“It’s a juggling act to keep it all going and to make sure the calendar is correct and I’m where I’m supposed to be and getting done what I have to get done. Sandy is the one that makes that all happen.”
Then there are the sponsors that help keep Niggemeyer’s confidence up and his spirits buoyed.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a good event and one of these guys will call and congratulate me on a job well done,” he said. “That’s probably the closest that fishing comes to a team competition like football and there’s excitement, back slapping and high-fiving as we all share the success.
“Then there’s the other side where you’ve bombed an event and you’re feeling kind of low. That’s when they’ll call you up and get your spirits back up.”
When it’s all said and done, Niggemeyer is where he is at today thanks to some divine intervention, plenty of skill and talent, a lot of hard work, and a support team comprised of his family and some very important friendships and business relationships.
“I’m honored to be a part of all of this,” he smiled and nodded towards the ICAST show floor.
“I’m competing against and working with so many of the heroes I had before I went out on Tour. Now I’m rubbing elbows with them all – Mark Davis, Mark Menendez, Greg Hackney and KVD,” he added.
“I never thought I would be fishing against these guys, let alone knowing them and breaking bread together with them. But I’m thankful that I get to take part in something like this, something I never thought as a kid that I could do.”
But Niggemeyer can do it – and is doing it – as the Texas bass pro’s growing resume will attest to.
And with that, Niggemeyer smiled a weary smile, shook my hand, and turned to the next order of business on the show floor of ICAST 2014.
Because that’s what fishing professionals do, day in and day out, on the water and off.
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