Counting the Cost of Going ProCounting the Cost of Going Pro Here's how to get a company to start loading you up with free baits or sending you a check every month.
By M.L. Anderson
Arizona’s John Murray turned pro at 20 years old. He’d been fishing since he was 13 and he’s a natural. His parents bought him a bass boat and truck while he was in high school and he started guiding and fishing tournaments – making a lot of money. Back then, they paid $8,000 for the boat and $10,000 for the truck. When John finished 3rd in the U.S. Open, he made a big decision. He took that money, quit college, and started fishing professionally. His parents, both teachers, were not happy with his decision, but that year he made more than both of them. It was the right decision for him.
At that point in time, Murray didn’t have a wife or kids. “With bass fishing, it’s all about putting in the time,” he says. “When you’re married with kids it’s a huge deal because you are hardly ever home. You get out of it what you put into it.” Murray says he lived and breathed fishing until his son was born. Even with a wife and son, Murray still fishes professionally. With an RV, his wife and son came with him everywhere he went. Now that his son is old enough to start school, though, Murray is moving out of his home state of Arizona and transplanting his family to Tennessee.
“There’s no way to make a living at fishing if you’re west of Texas,” he says. When John first started to fish there were tons of draw tournaments out west. Now, he says, “it’s all dried up. Team tournaments are proliferating, but if you want to make any money, you need draw tournaments. The East is very vibrant.” Since the tournaments are all out there and he’s not a fan of driving 20+ hours each way and leaving his family behind alone, he’s moving.
There are several pros who continue to bring their families with them, living in RV’s or trailers from February through September and home schooling the kids, but that’s not for everyone. Financially and for stability, Murray feels it’s better for him and his family to have a home base.
California angler Gary Dobyns took an entirely different course. When he was 20 years old he already had a wife and kid. “Being a bass pro is brutally hard on your family life,” he explains. “You’re gone all the time – fishing, pre-fishing, driving, doing shows for sponsors, whatever. You’re not there for the kids unless you take them with you, then you have to home school and not all moms are up for that. It makes it hard for the kids to have friends, too.” His wife had a job, so she couldn’t leave because they needed the money.
Dobyns says that the pro tour had 11 tournaments a year, so you would ALWAYS be fishing. You’re gone for months for practice, pre-fish, and tournaments. He says right now with the Western Swing being at the Delta and Havasu, guys have been out there for a solid month already, practicing. To be really good, he says, you need to spend at least 200 days a year on the water.
Obviously, one of the biggest costs of going pro is the toll it takes on your family life. It takes a special lady to wait for weeks on end for her man to come home, or to live in a trailer and go from lake to lake with him. Some love the gypsy life. Some don’t. Those who don’t, stay home. Then there are bills at home: housing, utilities, the usual stuff. Meanwhile, you have huge expenses of your own on the road. Unless you can flop with a friend, you need motels or an RV. Some guys camp most of the time, or sleep in a van. You have to eat.
Boat expenses mount up as well. Gas and oil, service, wraps – it all adds up quicker than you think. Gary says he burns 20 to 30 gallons a day during a typical pre-fish. Tackle and equipment is crazy, he adds, especially things like electronics. A lot of guys think that once they win a tournament or two they will be able to line up sponsors and get a lot of their expenses taken care of. But nowadays deals on motors and boats are mostly discounts only unless you are a VERY big name. Most sponsors give you product and cash deals are scarce as hen’s teeth.
Murray says that when you start out, you should buy a boat where you have a good relationship with the dealer. He may be able to help you get a sponsorship later on. Once you have a boat and truck you have to have insurance, and you need to make sure your equipment and tackle are covered. “I’ve got 30-40 rods at $300 to $500 a pop, and 40 tackle boxes full of baits,” he says. When he started he had four boxes, and baits were a lot cheaper. People would have laughed at the idea of paying $25 or more for a single bait back the, but it’s common now.
“You have to work your way to getting sponsors,” Dobyns says. “A lot of young guys end up living on credit cards and betting they’ll be able to win. Yeah, 50th place is good for $10K, but there are a lot of really good fishermen that haven’t even made a check this year.” The life of a bass pro looks glamorous when he’s on stage holding that big trophy, but the average guy doesn’t understand all the sacrifices that guy made to get there. “I can guarantee you there are a lot of phenomenal fishermen who won’t make those kinds of sacrifices,” Dobyns says.
Another cost that no one talks about and almost no one thinks of, is the fact that turning pro could steal your love for bass fishing. Gary says they’ll all tell you no, but at some point it can become just a job, and it’s not fun any more. That to me would be paying the ultimate price.
The alternative? If you crave competition, you can be a local bass pro. The bad thing is that you probably won’t get any big endorsement money, but the costs are way less. You can still win money and do what you love, but you can keep a job so life isn’t such a gamble. You may be gone for a week at a time now and then, but then you’re home. Dobyns fishes tournaments all over the west and is highly regarded by everyone in the industry. Dobyns’ Rods are some of the best on the market, and wherever he goes, fishermen know him and respect his opinions. His name and his reputation as a great stick helped him build his rod business. He also didn’t have to give up coaching Little League or any of the other “dad stuff” that guys on the road miss. There’s a lot to be said for being local.
If you’re already a local pro and you’re convinced you’re ready for the big time, be prepared to shell out about $200,000 to get started. Murray says you need a great background in fishing and a paid-off boat and truck if you want to go pro. “It’s easy to get in debt quick,” he warns, “it’s hard to get sponsors and all the paying sponsors are back east.” When he started, he says, you could make $30K a year and make a profit, but nowadays you have to make $100K to break even. Entry fees alone are phenomenal, and they are just the start. The key is PASSION, he says. If you have it, go for it. If it’s meant to be, you’ll make it. It’s all about enjoying the process.
If you are considering going pro, evaluate yourself honestly. Are you really good enough to compete with the likes of Ike, KVD, and Skeet? If you are, go for it! But be sensible: sit down and figure out a budget. First, start with things that are what they are – like the price of a boat and truck, entry fees, insurance. Then start listing things you have a little bit of control over, like housing. Are you willing to camp or live in a van? A lot of campgrounds have showers and electricity, so it’s not so bad. If not, you have to figure in motel rooms every night.
Then consider food. A professional angler is an athlete, and needs to eat like one. If you want to be at peak performance, you need to feed your body the right stuff. Take a few week-long trips and keep careful count of the costs while you’re on the road. If you don’t have a family, then maybe you don’t need a home or apartment. If you don’t, then where will you stay when you aren’t on the circuit? Add up all these costs, and be sure to include gas, oil and service, both for the truck and the boat. Keep a record of all your expenses, and be sure to include an emergency fund. If you’re really that good, start banking your winnings from local tournaments until you have enough to fund a year of professional fishing. Then you don’t have to worry about money and you can concentrate on fishing.
A Word About Sponsors
Gary Dobyns has experienced sponsorship from both sides of the coin. He has sponsors, and he IS a sponsor: Dobyns Rods has several pros on staff. What Gary expects from them is exactly what he gives all of his sponsors: promotion. Just because you win a local tournament with a certain bait, don’t expect that company to start loading you up with free baits or sending you a check every month. Many of the bigger sponsors require you to turn in a record each month of shows or seminars you’ve done, tearsheets of articles you’re mentioned in (and where you’ve promoted them), and links to online videos and stories you’re in. Your life as a pro isn’t just fishing – it’s promoting your sponsors and your sport as well. Keeping yourself and your image clean is important. Do something really bad and the sponsors you worked so hard to get might drop you like a hot rock. On the other hand, you can enjoy years of great relationship with sponsors. Gary and John both have sponsors that they’ve had relationships with for years. It’s a win-win situation, but you have to do your part. Companies are inundated with requests for money and sponsorships. You have to show them how you will make money for them if you want to get their attention.
Once you have a few great finishes under your belt and you are starting to be known, be a pro when you ask for a sponsorship. Turn in a resume and be sure to include a list of the tournaments you fish, your finishes, tearsheets (copies) of any articles you’ve been in or have written, as well as a record of the shows and seminars you do. Indicate that you are willing to do shows for them as well. Be specific about what you would like them to do for you and what you are willing to do for them in return. You should have a folder for them with articles, tournament records, shows, etc. Make sure everything is spelled correctly and the grammar is spot on. If you stink at that, hire someone to type it up for you. Read Ike’s article on sponsorship on BassResource.com. Be prepared to spend a lot of time doing seminars and talks to clubs when you aren’t fishing. It will be easy because you’ll be talking about what you love, with people who are hanging on your every word. You’re a pro! Enjoy it!
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