Complaining or keeping it real?

I have a bone to pick with my good friend, Don Barone. Let me start by saying that Don is my friend. I enjoy and look forward to his articles, but I think his recent article was off base. I know that db was not speaking directly about me, but here is my opinion on the “whining” — as db called it.

First off, I am blessed to be living my dream. I love being a professional bass angler and I am very grateful that I get to travel the country, see new places, fish different waters and meet interesting people everywhere we go. My family travels with me, and I try very hard to never take for granted that I have been able to continue competitive bass fishing and have a very successful career doing so. I love my job, and would not trade it for anything.

Second, I try to keep a positive mindset and stay focused. It is important to keep your head in the game and not be distracted. Negativity can take you out of the zone and the competition.

Third, I try to keep it real for my friends and fans. Not complain, but be honest and real. I think it’s important that fans know the pros struggle to catch them on occasion. It is not always easy, regardless of who you are. I think my Facebook friends and fans appreciate that I am honest, and they know it is me speaking.

Now, with that said, professional bass fishing is way different than most other competitive sports. You cannot compare us to NFL players getting multi-million dollar contracts to play for a team — win or lose.

And this is not the same as the weekend angler that has an extra day off and spends it on the water without a bite. Yes, a bad day fishing may be better than a good day at work for many, but this is not the same.

Bass fishing is not just a sport to us, it is a business. Much like many small businesses, it is something that we love to do, but understand that it is a business and we are in it to make a living.

We invest a lot of our own money, pay to go to work and risk everything for our business every year. Some of my competitors are living off credit cards or loans to get through the season. Many anglers live from tournament to tournament — essentially paycheck to paycheck — or year to year. One or two bad years in the Bassmaster Elite Series can put you in real financial trouble.

We are independent small business, but we have lots of “bosses."

Our sponsors are the “bosses" that truly support us. They want us to succeed and do what they can to help us be successful. In return, they need us to perform well, speak well on stage and with the media and connect with our fans and their consumers. If we cannot deliver, they will look elsewhere.

The tournament organization is another “boss." They work hard to organize these events for the anglers, the fans and the host city. We show up, but they set things in motion, establish the rules and the logistics for everything. Plus, they control the entry fees and payouts.

The media is a “boss." They choose whether or not they will cover us, give us exposure and tell our story or the story of our sponsors. Sometimes an angler deserves coverage. Sometimes he does not.

When I have a bad tournament, everyone knows — my friends, my fans, my sponsors. They were watching while I dropped the ball. They also want me to retell my humiliation over and over again. And I do tell the story, since I know they only ask because they care.

I won't lie to the fans. I will always be honest.

Here are a few highlights of our trip to the Delaware River:

  1. We met tons of great people in this area. The fans were great!
  2. We loved our campground.
  3. There was lots of history and culture in Philadelphia.
  4. My family and I had a great cheesesteak from Geno’s and chocolate from Rim Cafe.
  5. There were many incredibly beautiful spots on the river.
  6. I saw tons of deer and turkey.
  7. I found a great tackle store that my son loved —STC Sports.
  8. Bobbi and the kids had a good time on some field trips and with friends.
  9. The weather was nice.

But not everything was positive. We were told not to get off the highway in certain areas because it was too dangerous. We learned not to leave our truck parked at certain ramps. We paid tolls from $5 to $40 every time we crossed a bridge from New Jersey to Pennsylvania and back. It sometimes took us 20 minutes to get somewhere but more than two hours to get back along the same route. I saw a fist fight between a man and a woman on the shore while a crowd stood around doing nothing. That shocked me.

Philadelphia and New Jersey were great, but they were not our "host" and we were not a "guest." They hosted B.A.S.S. They hosted the event. I paid a lot of money to be there, to fish there, to live there for a little while and to experience that part of our country.

It wasn't cheap, but I would do it again. Overall it was a positive experience. My family and I learned and benefited from it. But it wasn't roses and sunshine, and I resent to being told to shut up about it. What does anyone get or learn from that?

Here's my tournament report from the Delaware River:

My trip was tough. I came to pre-practice and spent about $3,000 in travel expenses. Then, when we came back for the tournament, I did terrible! I came to work, clocked in, logged over 3,000 miles and spent over $10,000 to be here.

I did not get paid. Instead, I paid to come to work. That's how it works in this business, and it's what I bargained for.

Yes, I still love my career choice, but would you have believed me if I carried on about how incredible this experience was? "It was such a great week! I love every minute of it! Yada, yada, yada."

I never “mail it in” and I take offense to any accusation of that. I did my best to make every cast count, and I worked my tail off to figure out how to put enough fish in the boat to get a check, gain some Toyota AOY points or maybe even win. I didn’t call in sick or go through the motions. I worked as hard as I ever have in any tournament I've ever fished.

In retrospect, the pre-fishing may have hurt my performance. The fish and conditions changed in the five weeks I was away, and I did not adjust well. I wish I had skipped the pre-fishing and just come for the official practice during tournament week. I think I might have done a lot better. I needed a great finish here and had a lot of pressure to perform.

But that's not a complaint. It's an assessment of my tournament experience on the Delaware River. It was a tough day at the office. I still love my office, but not every day is a great one. I don't always make the right decisions. Conditions are not always the way I would like them to be. There are ups and downs in this business, and I'm prepared for them.

I think painting a picture of nothing but easy fishing and great days traveling the world does everyone a disservice.

I hope my friends and fans appreciate that I'm more honest than that.