One question that the pros are asked more than anything else…”How do I become a professional bass fisherman?” Now this is a loaded question and one that I’ll try to answer for all you want-a-be professional anglers. I’ll give you not only my perspective but a dose of reality as well. For those of you trying to make it to the highest level, you might not like what you read in this article, but you’ll definitely have a greater understanding and appreciation for how difficult it is to make a living as a touring pro.
Today’s anglers actually have a more difficult time trying to become a pro than 30 years ago. There are a limited number of spots available on the two major circuits (B.A.S.S. Elite Series and Major League Fishing- MLF). But the rewards of making it on either of these two tours, makes it worth the gamble…or does it? What an awesome way to make a living….bass fishing! This is the dream and goal of so many youngsters growing up today. For me, my dream was to play professional baseball, and nothing was going to get in the way of me accomplishing that goal. I’ll use baseball as a comparison so you can see the similarities. In 1983 I was drafted by the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals) and was sent to New York for minicamp along with 40 other draft picks. Our first meeting, the general manager of the Expos (Bob Gebhart) walked into the room and stood in front of all 40 draft picks and said, “Congratulations guys, each of you represent one out of every 10,000 baseball players in the country and only one of you will make it to the Major League level.” Turns out, he was exactly right…only one guy made it from our draft class: a fifteen-year-old shortstop from Dominican Republic by the name of Esteban Beltre. Now this was a dose of reality and it hit me at that point just how difficult it is to make it to the Major Leagues.
There’s an old saying in baseball, ”Baseball players are a dime a dozen.” Well, you can say the same thing about bass fishermen. They are everywhere and once again, there are only so many slots available. It used to be years ago, that the best path to becoming a professional angler, was to move south and become a guide at either Toledo Bend or Sam Rayburn. Make a name for yourself while learning how to catch bass in every condition imaginable. So many guys took this path like legendary pros Tommy Martin, Larry Nixon and Jack Hains to name a few. The other thing you had to do… quit your job and dedicate yourself to nothing but finding and catching bass. Becoming a guide makes you a better angler overall because it teaches you how to catch bass under various conditions. One of the toughest jobs you can have is guiding for a living. You have to learn to find and catch bass in order to make your customers happy. Now that’s a high-pressure job!
Your next option on pursuing a professional bass fishing career, is to fish the lower levels of bass fishing circuits and work your way up. For example, with B.A.S.S., there’s high school bass fishing circuits, college tours and what’s called The Open Series. The Open Series has three divisions nationwide (Southern, Central and Northern) and the top three finishers from each division’s points standings will receive an invitation to fish the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series, as will the top three from the overall standings accumulated in all three divisions. We’re talking 716 anglers all across the nation vying for 12 spots in order to become a professional bass fisherman. This total does not include the over 850 college anglers who are trying for 1 spot on the Elite Series. Only one college angler (National Champion) from across the nation will get that opportunity.
Now let’s look at the other route you can take by fishing with MLF (Major League Fishing). They to have a difficult path but it is an avenue that’s available to anglers all across the country. They have what’s called the Big 5. This includes, Tackle Warehouse Pro Tour, Toyota Series, Phoenix Bass Fishing League, Abu Garcia College Fishing and the U.S. Army High School Fishing. It’s a series of tours that if you do really well, you can possibly advance to the highest level called the Bass Pro Tour. This tour has a unique format that allows anglers to catch, weigh and release their catch immediately while on board officials record their every fish that weighs two pounds or better. Unlike B.A.S.S. in which anglers bring their best 5 bass to scales for weigh-in. Once again thousands of anglers nationwide are fishing the Big 5 Tours attempting to progress and advance to the Bass Pro Tour.
Today’s angler has to be not only GREAT, but a businessman, speaker, road warrior, mechanic and put in long 10-to-12-hour days on the water. This level requires family sacrifices like missing birthday parties, school programs, recitals, holidays and athletic events. These guys are on the road for weeks and months at a time. I asked legendary Pro Shaw Grigsby one day when was the last time he slept in his own bed in Florida? He said he had only slept in his bed two days the entire month of March.
So, you think you still want to be a professional bass angler? The odds of making it are really slim to none as you can see from the numbers above. You might have better odds of being struck by lightning! But I’m not here to discourage you from trying, I just want to make sure you understand how difficult it is to make it to the highest level of professional bass fishing. Many an angler have gone broke trying to make it to the highest levels, not to mention the number of divorce attorneys that have been hired. It can be very rewarding both from a personal standpoint and financially if you’re one of the lucky ones. Till next time, good luck, good fishing and don’t forget to set the hook!