Article by Ronell Smith
The cliche "If it was easy, everyone would be doing it" certainly applies to professional bass fishing. It seems that instead of wanting to be cowboys or attorneys or accountants, hordes of young men now spend their early years trying to figure out a way to be the hottest pro angler tearing up the sport and cashing checks at every event. If that sounds like you, take a breath and calm down for a second. It's not as simple as it seems.
Being a professional bass angler is about a lot more than chasing little green fish. "But I can catch 'em," you say. Good, because that's the minimum requirement for making a successful career of the sport. It's often the other stuff, like getting and keeping sponsors that anglers, especially young anglers, mismanage.
For some added perspective, I talked to Bassmaster Elite Series Angler John Crews, who is one of the best marketers in the sport, in addition to be a solid stick on the water, amassing over $800,000 in tournament wins at 34 years of age. Crews, who recently launched his own line of soft baits—Missile Baits—is as comfortable with fans and media as he is on the water catching fish. Because he also spends a great deal of time at various fishing events and shows outside of the tournament scene, I figured he'd be the perfect person to talk to young pros about what it takes to make it in the sport.
RS: What's the first thing you'd tell young pros who wish to enter the sport?
JC: "You've got to be yourself. You've got to do what you're comfortable with. Most talents are either a learned talent or an acquired talent. You can always get better at what you're comfortable doing."
RS: One of the things I continually hear from young anglers when it comes to them not having sponsorships is "Man, but I can catch 'em," as if that's the be-all, end-all." Do you encounter that attitude from young anglers?
JC: "The biggest thing I see is a lot of the young guys that want to be a professional angler don't focus enough on trying to a better angler. I'm starting to see more of them that are doing that, trying to become a better angler, but a lot of them I see are trying to get more sponsors, thinking that's the way to be a professional fisherman."
RS: So they are going about it backwards, then? Focused on getting sponsors at the detriment of trying to be the best angler they can be?
JC: "I think so. A lot of people in the general public think that, too— 'Yeah, if I had some sponsors I could be a pro angler.' Well, you would be, for a little while, until your money ran out, because you aren't going to keep sponsors if you can't catch 'em. There's different ways to go about being a better angler. But I say it's important to develop both sides, the professional side and the promotional and marketing side of it."
RS: What are some things young anglers can and should do to set themselves apart from the pack?
JC: "Figure out a way to be where everybody is. Figure out a way to be at ICAST each year, because it's not open to the public. (The industry's largest trade show, ICAST is held annually and is the venue where sport fishing tackle companies display products for the upcoming year.) Figure out a way to make it to the Bassmaster Classic, and if you really want to work all angles, attend the FLW Championship and some of the other marquee events that the sponsors show up at. If someone from XYZ lure company sees you at all these shows, they're going to say 'This guy must be doing something right because I see him everywhere that I am.' That's the simple way to get it done."
RS: What about reaching out directly to companies? I see it all the time on Facebook and Twitter, but I also hear about it a lot from companies, who get inundated with resumes, either via mail, email or at shows.
JC: "Cold calling is the hardest way to sell anything. You have a very low chance of success. That's the reason I'm talking about attending shows: You meet those people and establish a relationship, so when they see your resume or you call them, they know who you are. You need to establish a relationship.
RS: What's something else you'd recommend young anglers do to help themselves?
JC: "In the last couple years, social media has become really popular, and lot of sponsors are looking for anglers that are active in the medium. And you don't need to be 'somebody' to be active in social media. You can start a Twitter and Facebook account and generate a following. And if you are active and have interesting stuff to say, the more likely you are to find out what works and what doesn't. So when you walk up to a sponsor and introduce yourself, and they ask if you're active in social media, you can say 'Yes, I'm on Twitter and I have over 1,000 followers,' or however many you have. From there, the potential sponsor might think to himself, 'I don't know this guy, but obviously a lot of people are listening to what he is saying.'"
RS: Answer this for me: What's the one thing I can do as a young angler to dramatically increase my chances of success in the sport of professional bass fishing?
JC: "If you can catch 'em ... If you can catch 'em, everything else takes care of itself. If you cannot catch 'em, you might be able to hustle along for a little while. It's also important to note, though, that there are a lot of jobs in the fishing industry. There's only a 100 guys in the Elite Series. If you've got your heart set on it, but you don't quite have the skill level necessary, there are still a lot of jobs in the fishing industry that will allow you to do what you enjoy doing and be around the industry. You can own a tackle shop, be a manufacturer's rep, work at a tackle company, work for a boat dealer, run a tournament trail, or a combination of two or three of those. I think a lot of aspiring tournament anglers miss that."