I remember when I was just getting started on the old Bassmaster Tour. The one thought that stuck with me was, "These guys are good!"
As a rookie, I came in with high hopes and thought it was going to be a lot like it was in my local and regional events back home in Kansas. In fact, I actually thought it might be easier because we had a 15-inch minimum length limit, and most of the places on the Tour had just a 12-inch length limit.
How hard could it be to catch 12-inch fish, right?
Well, as it turned out, it all depends on when and where you are fishing and who you're fishing against, but 12-inch fish on tour were often a lot tougher to catch than 15-inch fish back home.
This year, we have a pretty interesting group of newcomers to the Elite Series. I hesitate to call them all "rookies" or even "freshmen" because many of them have pretty stout résumés already. Randall Tharp is an FLW Cup winner and Jacob Powroznik has been battling for an FLW Tour AOY almost every year. If you want to call those guys rookies, feel free, but they aren't your run of the mill rookies.
There are also some newcomers — guys who are new to the national tour level scene. Those guys are the true rookies. After a couple of events, I am sure some of them are having interesting conversations with themselves. I know I did. For those guys, I have this welcome letter.
Welcome to the Bassmaster Elite Series. I'd like to be congratulate you on your successes and qualification to fish on what I consider the biggest and best fishing stage in the world. Remember, each of us started out as a rookie at some point. While those of us still here have found success, many haven't come out of it so well. For that reason, I'd like to welcome you with some advice I picked up along the way.
First, it's great to have lofty goals like winning events, qualifying for Bassmaster Classics and having sponsors throw money at you. However, I hope you realize it is not going to be all "Happy Gilmore" checks and television appearances. It's tough — tougher than anything else you've ever fished. Keep that in mind, and if you have to crawl a little before you run know that many of the veterans out here did the same. You can look at any of the veterans' stats and see that with few exceptions the road has been bumpy —especially at the beginning.
Succeeding out here is doable, and if you stay focused and put in the hard work it takes to make it, you can do it. The best thing I can tell you is continue to learn and educate yourself both on the water and on the business side of the job.
I think the most important thing I learned (and still need to be reminded of from time to time) is to have fun. You'll fish better if you enjoy it, and fishing is supposed to be fun. It's not always easy to enjoy it when you have the pressures of paying bills or supporting a family, but it's still important. Just this week, after a tough first two events, I took my kids fishing at a little pond in Florida and was reminded of how much fun it is to go fishing.
Speaking of pressure, one of the biggest mistakes I made was putting a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. We all want to be the best, win the Classic or Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year, but there is only one winner and over 100 non-winners in every event. Understand that success isn't winning but finding balance and longevity and persevering through the ups and downs of the sport.
If you work hard and things go right, you can win … eventually. It may take one or two events, one or two years, or it might never happen. There are seasoned veterans out here that have never won a tour level event, yet they still make a solid living and have success.
In closing, I wish you all success but don't expect it to just happen. Expect to work for it, expect times when you question yourself and your goals, and expect for the road to be bumpy. Stay on that road by continuing to work hard and educate yourself on both sides of the sport (fishing and business) and it will lead you to a long and successful career.
See you on the water,