(The writer's opinions and observations expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policies or positions of FLW.)
In addition to being a full-time pro angler for 30 years, I’m also a student of the sport. I love observing every aspect of professional fishing.
It is arguably the most difficult sport in terms of emotional impact, controlled and uncontrolled variables, technique details, and physical and mental challenges.
It can also be the most rewarding and exhilarating. Passion is the most important ingredient in pro fishing, and when you have passion, you have emotion. This inherent quality makes pro fishing an emotional rollercoaster every day on the water.
The top observation I’ve made – and the topic of this blog – is that unlike any other sport, the amount of pure physical work and effort you put into pro fishing does not equate to success.
I’ve seen this in my own fishing, and in all my peers as well. This is a hard concept to accept, because in life we are taught that through hard work you achieve success.
But in pro fishing, hard work is only one of many variables that lead to success, all of which must come together for a good event or career.
I’ll use one of my own experiences as an example: Back in the mid-1990s, my good friend and former FLW pro and Forrest Wood Cup qualifer Danny Correia and I were ready to take our fishing to the next level. We made a commitment one season to work harder than any other pros in the sport.
We started with time on the water. Each morning of practice and the tournament, we woke up at 3 a.m., drove to the lake together, launched our boats and drifted in the darkness for two hours before sunrise.
As soon as we could see, we began fishing, and didn’t stop until it became too dark to fish in the evening. We wouldn’t take our boats off the water until every other angler had left the ramp.
We studied maps and pre-fished. We ate, slept and talked fishing all the time. No two anglers in the history of the sport worked harder than we did.
The result? The worst season of both our careers.
After that season I re-evaluated my worldview of tournament success. It’s a process I continue today, and will never stop.
Through my observations, here’s what I believe leads to long-term success as a professional angler.
Tournament fishing – especially at the pro level – is expensive, much more so than 30 years ago. Financial pressure is, in my opinion, the top variable in the ability of an angler to begin, sustain and thrive in tournament fishing. Each angler must figure out how to address and overcome this distraction.
Passion combined with a creative mind
Without passion for the sport, an angler is wasting his or her time. Passion cannot be bought or faked. Anglers either have it, or they don’t. Passion keeps you motivated through both the good and bad times. A creative mind will often win over experience. This is why younger anglers sometimes outperform more experienced ones. It takes zero hard work to have a creative mind and passion, yet they are more critical to success than fishing from daylight ’til dark.
I recall that years ago some of the biggest stars in the sport made it public that they ignore dock talk, outside information sources and any fishing information they did not find out or experience on their own on the water. No longer will this work. Advancing technologies and the internet have changed tournament fishing forever. You simply cannot compete at this level if you are not computer-savvy and don’t keep up with industry trends. What took anglers like myself years to learn on the water can now be learned – literally – in minutes from fishing videos and GoPro footage.
Enjoying fishing and keeping it fun
You can have all the money in the world, all the passion to want to succeed, and the computer awareness of a genius, but if you don’t get out there on the water and put in your dirt time with the fish, you cannot succeed at your fullest potential. You must establish a connection with the fish on many levels. You must learn when to leave, when to stay and when to adjust. Fishing needs to be fun. I look back on the tournaments that have been my best, and they’re usually the ones where I was relaxed and just having fun with a technique I enjoy.
There is a spiritual aspect in fishing success that cannot be denied or explained. This all depends on your belief systems. Some anglers incorporate religious beliefs into their fishing. Others strive for the “zone.” Still others relate to Karma. Regardless, it all has the same effect and common thread – that a force beyond yourself gives you confidence that something is working with you to achieve a desired result.
Those are the qualities I believe lead to long-term success. Now here are a few ways to achieve those qualities.
Make a long-range plan
This might be starting out in Bass Pro Shops FLW High School Fishing, YETI FLW College Fishing or T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League events, then working up to the Costa FLW Series or the FLW Tour. That’s the great thing about FLW – there’s a level for everyone in terms of experience and financial resources.
Work on your mechanics
Like putting in golf, this is one aspect you can control. Being a great caster, trolling motor maneuvering expert and boat driver will take you a long way.
Spend time watching tournament coverage and videos
The experience acceleration you can receive from this is incredible to say the least.
Talk fishing with your friends
Don’t be a fishing hermit. Find anglers you can trust to give you honest information, and you do the same. Only align yourselves with anglers whom you can trust.
You do this by staying present in the moment. Enjoy being on the water. Anticipate the next bite. Don’t worry about the outcome.
In conclusion, while a good work ethic is important in all sports and occupations, in tournament fishing it plays a relatively minor role. Regardless of your background or personal situation, if you have the passion and desire, you can achieve success. Passion and desire will demand you get everything lined out that will create success at some level over some time period.
Tournament fishing is the most frustrating, exhausting, wonderful, drama-filled, exciting, emotional, physical, fun, miserable, exhilarating sport in the world. I can promise you it will not make you feel good all the time, but it WILL make you feel alive and experience the full range of human emotion.
What other sport can do that?