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So You Want To Fish For A Living?

By Bill Wilcox

 

I get asked for advice on this subject far more than any other question concerning fishing. Many anglers, especially tournament fishermen, dream of a fishing career. It was my dream, still is, and I know there are lots of other people who have the same dream.
   The advice I have is from my own experience, a blueprint if you will. It has been a hard road to travel, but perhaps it might answer some questions you have.
   One of the sayings that I'm most fond of regarding a fishing career is, "Don't decide on a fishing career to make a small fortune, just make sure you start out with a large one." This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks you'll face. Unless you're rich, money will be a major factor in how you approach a fishing career.
   A good example is the Bassmaster Top 150 tournament trail. I fished it last year. To fish the entire season, and do it right, is expensive and time consuming. For example you will be gone from home for 15 weeks. I don't know of any paying jobs that will give you 15 weeks paid vacation.
   Of the 150 pros that fished only 18, that's right 18, even won enough to cover expenses. Of course this is the hardest and most rewarding of all professional tournament circuits to even qualify for. But this is what you have to look forward to if you make it to the top of the fishing game. The payback is getting better and with ESPN buying BASS it's bound to get even better.
   As tournament fishermen we have to face facts. We have always fished for our own money from entry fees. I don't have a problem with that, but some people don't understand that it limits what we can win. So you have to pay attention and be careful about choosing events to compete in. Always read the fine print. Some even claim to payback 150 percent. In my experience some of it's just hype. You can do the math yourself. Nobody can stay in business paying out more than they take in, no matter what kind of business they're in. Stay with tournaments that have been established for some years. As a tournament angler, the benchmark I look for in payback is 80 percent. With some events you'll have to search through the fluff and fine print, but if payback hits close to this mark then I know the circuit can stay around for a while. Now if you still want to fish for a living let's get down to the real nitty gritty.
   You've heard this before, but there's a reason - it's true. Start with a bass club. This is the grass roots of tournament competition. If you can compete at every event and win at least 30 to 40 percent of the time, then don't try to move up.
   I fished my first club tournaments in 1978 in two clubs. Both were well organized and had plenty of good fishermen in them like Jim Poole of Fin and Feather, Hoyt Fincher and several others. So I got my feet wet against some pretty stiff competition.
   I then teamed up with my best friend Roy Carlson to fish some team tournaments. This is the logical next step from bass club events. There are more anglers, larger purses and usually a championship at the end of the season. That was in 1986 and we fished US Bass.
   The north division of US Bass aver- aged close to 150 teams at each tournament. We never got a limit in one single event, but we received a check at each one and won the Anglers of the Year title. We fished Anglers Choice for four years following that and never finished lower than second at year's end and even won several events.
   When Roy had to slow down on his fishing due to family business obligations I started fishing Anglers Choice Pro Draw events. Some of these even took me out of Texas. I never won any of them, but had some second, third and several top 10 finishes - and qualified for every championship. I still fished some other teams events with other partners like Mike Odom, Forrest Fritcher, Bruce Rasco, and Quinn Wilson. We won several events and always qualified for championships. It was then I felt ready to take the next step.
   In 1995 1 entered my first BASS Invitational. These are the events where you can't have even one bad day or lose a single fish and win. But that's what you should want if you want to be the best of the best. It took me five years, but I finally qualified for the Top 150. These events took me to Washington, DC, Florida and Texas with a bunch of places in between. My best finish this year was on the Mobile Delta at seventh with a $10,000 check and I have qualified again for the next season.
   So if you have your sites set on being a professional tournament competitor, just remember it won't happen overnight. Be patient, work hard and you can make your dream come true - because if I can you can too.

Bill Wilcox is sponsored by Ranger Boats, Yamaha Outboards, MCMC, BG Products, Pro Rule, Johnson Fiberglass, Brown's Automotive, Continental Batteries, Kistler Rods, Swamp Hog Lures, Strike King Lures, and Fun-n-Sun Sports Center.

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