Stephen Browning rides through Stage Three of the Bass Pro Tour in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo by Joe Branch

Every one of us on the Bass Pro Tour has taken a unique path to get to where we are today, and I’m no different. We all have worked our entire lives for the opportunity to get to do what we are doing now.

When I was a kid growing up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, I grew up in the shadows of pros before me like Larry Nixon, George Cochran and Mark Davis. Watching them in my younger years convinced me that becoming a professional tournament angler is what I wanted to do.

Planning My Dream

When I was 17 years old I made a plan to become a pro. I went to college to make sure that I had an education and a back-up plan of sorts, but I knew fishing is where I wanted to make my living.

I learned from watching the other pros that the path I needed to take was to start fishing smaller local tournaments, then move to state tournaments, regional tournaments and national tournaments.

My very first season of professional fishing in 1995 and I finished 10th in total points among 360 anglers in my circuit (it helped that my first tournament was on the Arkansas River at home in Pine Bluff). I was fishing against the best anglers in the world like Denny Brauer, George Cochran and Rick Klein at the time, and I knew I could hang with them. That’s when I knew that I had made the right career choice.

Trying Times

It wasn’t easy all the time, though. There were moments where I would struggle and wonder if I was making the right decision chasing this fishing dream. When you string a couple of bad events in a row together it can really start to get in your head and fill your mind with thoughts of inadequacy.

I was lucky enough to be able to snap myself out of those tough streaks and come back with a solid finish a few times. No matter how difficult it got for me, I never wanted to give up. Just when I thought I was as low as I could be, I would catch a break. Whether it was a fish at the right moment, a win, or a sponsorship deal I wasn’t expecting, things just kept happening for me to reassure me that I was on the right track.

Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long for my first win.

In June of 1996, I won the Red Man All-American back home in Pine Bluff. To feel that satisfaction of winning gave me all of the confidence I needed to continue doing what I loved.

Dear Young Stephen

Fast forward to 2019 and I’m 53 years old with five career wins and 42 Top 10’s. It’s hard to believe how far I’ve come from that young gun in 1995 who was fishing his first tournament on the Arkansas River.

If there was one piece of advice I would give my younger self it’s probably to stay positive no matter what. You’re going to have good days and bad days in this job, don’t let it discourage you. Another big thing is to take care of your sponsors. My sponsors are my lifeblood and without them, there’s no way I could have fished as long as I have and still continue to do it.

Another tidbit of advice is to develop relationships with outdoor media outlets. I was fortunate enough to know a few outdoor writers early on in my career and I always made it a point to talk with them. The writers have stories to write, but they can also help you promote your sponsors which is so important.

It’s hard to believe we just finished the first season of the Bass Pro Tour and we’re gearing up for the second. If I would have told myself back in 1995 that this is where we’d be today I think I would believe it, it would just take a little convincing to believe it 100 percent.