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Can You Make Money Fishing Tournaments?

EDITOR’S NOTE: In this series, former Elite Series Pro Ryan Said examines the “Low Down” on making a career out of tournament fishing. Parts 1 and 2 dealt with the raw numbers and how anglers afford to get in the game. Part 3 deals with The Truth About Tournament Winnings

I will just lay it right on the line. Given the costs we already reviews, unless you finish in the top ten in pro tournaments, you’re not making any money. There are a few exceptions, but on the whole it is very difficult to make a living off tournament winnings alone. You really need to consistently finish in the top five to ten places in almost every tournament in order to make a living from the winnings alone. Frankly, nobody does that, even the best. Those very best anglers might catch lightning in a bottle and have a few big seasons (think KVD or Wheeler) but to do it season after season? You just cannot count on tournament winnings to sustain you, especially early in your career.

At mid-level events like the Bassmaster Opens, Toyota Series, and BFL Circuits, only the top five places make enough money to go beyond more than just the costs of fishing the event. That means you have to fish first because you love it, and second, because you have a good secondary source of income. You can make some money at the local level if you are very good locally. There are a few guys for example on Lake St. Clair that are always in the top five and they probably make a couple thousand a year over their break-even costs, but all the guys I am talking about have other jobs to pay for housing, put food on the table, pay for insurance, health care etc. Add more if you have a family.

Even at the top level- like the Bassmaster Elite Series- you have to finish in the top half in each event (the level that pays $10,000) just to break even. For example, if you finish in 40th place in all 8 events (trust me, this is still very hard) you only make $80,000, which, as I mentioned earlier in the series, is right around the “Mendoza Line”, that is, the breakeven point to cover what it costs to fish the series for the year.

So, you are probably thinking, ok, if you can’t do it all with winnings, what about sponsorships? Well, there are certain “truths” you need to know about sponsorships. A lot of programs are structured simply to that give you discounts on products. While helpful, you’ll need something more substantial, and these types of programs are very difficult to get, especially if you are not consistently earning top finishes in tournaments, and/or don’t have a significant social media following.

The year I fished the Bassmaster Elite I received no money from sponsors. My main sponsor covered my fishing related costs through a reimbursement program, and my tackle sponsors gave me 50% off on product. In other words, if I had had other “non-fishing” expenses (home, family, car payment, etc.) I would have been “up a creek”.

A friend of mine who fishes at the very top level told me it took him three to four years before he

started getting cash from sponsors in addition to discounted product or entry fees paid. You cannot expect to “make money” from sponsors early on. If you want to be a pro, you have to do a realistic financial plan and save for it. The ability to turn sponsorships into something more than expenses is one of the hardest aspects of trying to establish a fishing career.

Ryan Said is a tournament angler and U.S. Coast Guard licensed guide on Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie. He books trips through Marcels Guide Service - an affiliation that is beginning its ninth season. In 2011, after winning the Bassmaster Northern Open points championship, Ryan had the honor of fishing the Bassmaster Classic and the Bassmaster Elite series trail. He has fished the Bassmaster Open Series several times, as well as the Costa (now Toyota) Series. Ryan is an engineer and teaches high school math. He coaches the college bass

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