My change from the federation ranks to the pro circuit felt natural and came relatively easy. I think it seemed so easy because my entire fishing career has been a series of stair-step progressions. I never attempted to jump into a higher level of fishing before I felt ready for it. Some fishermen try and make things happen too fast. I never really did this. My stair-step progression happened as follows:
Shortly after graduating high school, I joined a local bass club. I fished small lakes and ponds with a Jon boat (1992). Next, I started fishing bigger local and state federation tournaments as a rider. Then, I started to fish in some national-level tournaments, but I fished as an amateur (1994). I learned a lot here! Next, I started fishing state federation tournaments and Red Man tournaments (now BFL) as a boater. This is where I started making all my own decisions. Then after succeeding at that level, I started fishing in semi-professional tournaments like the B.A.S.S. Invitationals and Everstart Tournaments (1997). At about this same time, I qualified to fish in the B.A.S.S. Federation Nationals. And after qualifying through the B.A.S.S. Invitationals and Everstart tournaments I started fishing the pro circuits, the Top 150's and FLW's (1999).
In each step of my progression, I learned a little more. Each step was significant. Again, I never tried to jump into a new level of fishing until I was ready. Learning things on my own and learning them the hard way has had a more lasting impression. By the time I was ready to start fishing professionally, I had learned so many things about fishing and the other topics encountered as a pro, such as a boat handling, sponsorship issues, truck driving, finances, etc.
I probably encountered only significant differences when joining the professional circuit. The first was the size of the lakes and rivers I would be fishing. I went from fishing local smaller 10,000-acre lakes to fishing huge 30,000+ acre lakes all over the country. This can be intimidating. But by using the philosophy that a bass is a bass no matter where you go, things seemed more manageable. Bass will follow the same seasonal patterns and movements all over the country. Knowing this, I never changed my style of finding fish from when I fished in the federation ranks. I used the same methods of preparation I had used before.
The second significant difference was more of a mental issue. The names of all my fellow competitors changed. Instead of fishing against local fishermen, I was competing against many of the pros (Clunn, Fritts, Nixon, VanDam) I grew up reading about and idolizing. I was fishing with my heroes! But, I did not let this get to me. With total respect and honor to be fishing with some of the greatest pros, I held the simple philosophy that I was fishing against the fish, not the other pros. By keeping my efforts on figuring out the fish, I was never mentally intimidated by the "names" of my competitors.