Hidden talent

Imagine yourself, competing at the highest level of the sport — a contender in the Bassmaster Classic. You alone, against a field of hungry, talented anglers, all vying for the most coveted title in fishing. Sound good?

I bet it does.

It's this very prospect that drives so many of us who chase the dream. Anglers from every part of the country and beyond, battle their way through the ranks with the hope of reaching the sport's ultimate platform. Of those that pursuit it, precious few will ever actually achieve it.

Tournament angling is a humbling and sometimes brutal sport. Attrition is high, and the risks are great. Aspiring anglers come and go, as if through a revolving door.

But what about those with the ability to make it that never take the plunge? Relative unknowns who, for different reasons, choose to remain on the sidelines. Anglers who have proven themselves at every prerequisite level, yet never reach for the upper echelon of competitive fishing.

Maybe Out Of Sight, But Not Out Of Mind

They're out there — some young, others more seasoned. Like club-level pros of the PGA — capable, yet satisfied with their station. Whether it's for family or finances or some other reason, these anglers are reluctant to take the next step — even though they have the mettle to compete at any level they choose.

Guys like Frank Poirier of Virginia, Greg Mangus of Indiana, John "Zank" Viazanko of California, Wayne Izumi of Canada, or John Kremer of Florida — all of them considered top talents in their respective territories. These guys are true "sticks," solid in every aspect of the game. But for personal or professional reasons, they choose to remain in the shadows.

Indiana's Greg Mangus (left) is one of the country's top amateurs. Mark Zona (right) cals him the best "unknown" angler in the Midwest.

There are others like them, too — relative unknowns, all extremely talented and capable. But let's face it, this game isn't for everyone. At the tour level, costs are high and the sacrifices many. And you have to respect these guys for taking a pass, as they choose to put family, career or other obligations first.

Those That Tried

Sadly, there are countless others who wanted it, but never got the breaks — gifted anglers who, for different reasons, were never able to realize their full potential.

There's a saying among us pros: "You're only as good as your last tournament." Too often that rings true. Even solid performers sometimes hit a slump and are unable to recover, perhaps due to a lost sponsorship or some other unforeseen setback they're forced out of the game.

John Kremer of Florida.

The truth is it's that way in all sports. Some will make it while others won't. Even though their skill sets may be equal, some will be rewarded while others are punished. And those fortunate enough to survive, make it for a time while the rest fall short and move on to something else.

Like I said, it's a brutal game. And I have a deep respect for anyone willing to try.

Getting There

For those that want it, there are numerous ways to get there.  But be forewarned — there are no shortcuts!

By joining the B.A.S.S. Nation and competing at that level, you'll have the benefit of team play and a friendlier learning curve. Although they offer an extensive tournament program, their mission includes various civic and conservation duties. It's more of a grassroots program, and finding your way to the top may take some time. That said, numerous touring pros have made their way through the Federation ranks.

There's also the Bassmaster Weekend Series, which is structured more for the working man and casual competitor. Consisting of 20 regional divisions with five events each, both boaters and non-boaters can earn a spot in one of four regional championships. From there, the top finalists advance to the Weekend Series National Championship, where the eventual winner will receive an invitation to the Bassmaster Classic.

Virginia's Frank Poirier.

Then there's the Bassmaster Open Series — the launching pad for aspiring anglers wanting to make a name for themselves. It's only through the Opens that you'll find your way to the Bassmaster Elite Series.

All of these paths can get you to the Classic. Which you choose is up to you. But before diving in, make sure you're ready. Too often ambition can exceed ability. And no matter what, try to keep it fun. What begins as a passion can quickly become a job!