SO YOU WANT TO GO PRO: PART 1- THE RAW NUMBERS
EDITOR'S NOTES: This is first in a "HOW TO" 6-part series on the realities of trying to become a professional tournament fisherman - a lot of good tips for "Chasing the Dream"- from the viewpoint of Ryan Said, a fisherman whose been there and done that.
I recently had one of my guide clients, a young man still in high school,, ask me what it takes to “go pro” as a bass fisherman. He was specifically referring to tournament fishing-not guiding. While I do not claim to be an expert, I did fish at various pro levels, including the Elite Series, for a couple of years and still have some aspirations in that direction. I wrote this blog to help him understand what it usually takes. While there are as many "paths" to this as there are pros, this piece is intended to give some perspective and common threads to Kylen and other anglers with a passion who are relatively new to the tournament world.
I’ll start with the bad news then work to the good news. I am not going to sugar coat anything. You need to know the facts so you can make informed decisions about your post- high school education, career, and life choices. I will break it down into six parts:
Part 1 – Raw Number Costs
Part 2 – How Do Guys Afford It
Part 3 – Can You Make Money Fishing?
Part 4 – When You Ask- "Should I Even Try?"
Part 5 – What Does the Path Look Like?
Part 6 – What You Can Do Now to Get Start
Stick with me to the end, I promise there's good news at the end!
1. THE RAW NUMBERS: The first thing is, what I'm about to lay out is true for most, but not all pro fishermen. There'll always be someone who will push back and say “what about so-and-so, he made it without this!” That may be true. There will always be exceptions. I know, that’s how numbers and statistics work, I am a math teacher so you don't have to tell me. What I'm going to lay out are my observations, my data base.
Top Pro Level Costs: Bassmaster Elite Series, Bass Pro Tour, Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit
Week-long events with up to 30-day "off-limit" periods prior to two to three days of official practice. Competitions are generally two days for everyone, and three to four days for high finishers.
$4,000 to $5,000 per tournament; at least 8 tournaments, means around $40,000 per year. You can’t leave once you agree to join as you are required to commit to all of the full tournament circuit and pay the entry money well in advance of the first event.
Hotels, gas in the boat, gas in the truck, meals, tackle/gear, etc.:
$4,000 average per event. The events are all over the country, on a wide variety of very large lakes. You will need very diverse tackle and you need to compete using the best gear you can. You can cut cost by sleeping in your truck and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but you should expect to spend about $30,000 in total, especially when you figure in pre-practice time ahead of the off-limit periods. Most rookies, as well as veterans up to 5 years in experience will need to pre-practice fish to be competitive against the more experienced anglers.
Boat payment, boat insurance, etc.
To compete at this level you need a high quality boat with all the latest electronics. Expect to be paying at least $400 a month, likely more. Very few boats are “given” to pros, and then only to those who have established themselves. After two or three years, some pros are able to defer payments until the end of the year, but at the start you can’t expect monthly payments to be the norm. In some cases you can work with a dealer to be on their “pro staff” which can get you some discount on a boat, but usually it is not significant at the start of the relationship.
In summary: even on a "shoestring budget" you might be able to fish the year for $75,000, but if you want to be comfortable at all, it’s probably more like $80,000 to $90,000. It is important to note that this all assumes you are not married, have no kids to support, and don’t a own home you have to pay for either.
AAA Level Costs: Regional Pro level events like the Bassmaster Opens and Toyota Series
Week-long events with competition being two days for everyone, and three days for high finishers. Most anglers spend four to five days of practicing since there are no off-limit times for these events. You accumulate points at each event to qualify for the top levels like the Bassmaster Elite and Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit. These circuits are run by region- Northern, Southern, and Central region for example
$1,500 o $1,800 per tournament; usually three to four tournaments means a total between $4,500 and $7,200 in entry fees if you fish all events in just one of these circuits. Guys who are serious about qualifying for the upper tours sometimes fish more than one region, or more than one circuit at this level. You can cherry pick these geographically, but you can’t accumulate points to get to the next level by just fishing one or two events. If you cherry pick just ones close to your home, you are basically just looking to try and make some money, not make it to the next pro level.
Hotels, gas, food, etc.
This category is usually a little less than the top pro level because you don’t travel as far, and the events are on more similar bodies of water, so you may not need as wide a variety of tackle. You should however still plan about $2,000 per event, or about $7,000 to fish all events in one of the regional circuits.
Boat payment, boat insurance, etc.
To be competitive at this level you still need a high quality boat with all the electronics. There are guys like John Cox and Randy Blaukat who fish these without all the electronics, but if you want to give yourself the best chance, you need to be at least close to the top end of the boat and electronics spectrum. So, expect to be pay at least $400 a month.
In summary, to fish all of the events in one of these regional tournament circuits, expect to spend at least $15,000 for the year.
High Level Amateur Regional Events: Bass Fishing League (BFL) or other high level state trails
Generally, these are one-day events held regionally. Most guys take a couple of days to practice before the tournament on Saturday. You accumulate points at each event to qualify for a larger regional tournament at the end of the year .
These events average around $300 per tournament; with 4 to 5 tournaments in the series, so plan $1,500 to fish all of them. You can cherry pick these as well, but this won't let you accumulate enough points for the end-of-season regional tournament.
Hotels, gas, tackle, etc.
If you live close enough, you can stay at home, otherwise expect to spend about $800 per event, about half of which is gas in the boat and the other half hotels and meals, depending on how many days you elect to practice. Today's fuel price fluctuations will cause this to increase.
Boat Payment etc.
To fish these you don’t need as high a quality rig, so you can get away with an older or smaller boat. Remember, with the advances in forward looking electronics, it is getting harder to be competitive without good electronics.
In summary, if you fish the Michigan Division of the BFL circuit for example, you would fish all 5 events on Lake Erie or Lake St. Clair (once in a while they fish a lake up north), and you could expect to spend around $5,000 to $8,000 for the year to fish all the events, depending on where you live.
These are a lot of fun, less costly ways to fish tournaments. Local clubs or organizations all over the country put them on. These are usually team tournaments with entry fees usually $50 to $300 depending on the payout. They are a great way to get started and have fun on weekends. Some of the really good guys make a couple extra thousand a year on these, but they keep their day jobs.