The high price of a way of life

Fishing can be a very humbling sport, especially for competitive anglers. I know first hand. My Elite Series performance the past two seasons shows how far in the hole an angler can fall.

Lately it seems the more I struggle to get out of the hole, the deeper I sink — sort of like quicksand.

It's been painful, too. Not just for me, but for those closest to me — family, friends, sponsors, even media contacts. They all want to see me back on track. And I appreciate that, more than they know.

It's times like these when we're forced to take a closer look at ourselves. When things are going well, we tend to get caught up in the momentum that frequently follows success. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good roll as much as any competitor. But too often success blinds us from many of the things happening around us — important things. It's during the tough times that we discover, or re-discover perhaps, where we're at and what's really important.

The Many Sacrifices

When I look back over my 30 years of involvement in the sport, what's most glaring to me are not my achievements, but the many sacrifices I made along the way — sacrifices that impacted not just me, but those closest to me.

I've missed so much. I missed my brother's wedding, the passing of my father and grandparents, the births of my two sons, and countless other important family events — all because of tournament fishing. It seems almost unforgivable, yet I still pursue the dream. Like all the other Elite Series pros, I'm driven to the point of compromise.

Care to test your marriage? Try being a professional angler. I guarantee it will create major challenges for both you and your spouse. Either your absence will become a problem or the routine of dragging your family along will take a toll.

When my wife and I were younger, travel sort of went with the territory. But as our two sons grew, a home life and school became increasingly more important. And without a supportive wife to assume those responsibilities, my career would have ended long ago.

Constant travel isn’t easy. Yeah, there's a certain aspect of it that brings excitement and anticipation, but it can also become a grind. Thinking back to all those times I drove away, watching as my home and family faded in the rearview mirror — that image brings on guilt. And I'm sure it's the same for any of you who travel for a living. It's not easy.

Making It Work

When I get back home, I try to make up for lost time. Both of my sons love the outdoors, so I make that available to them as much as possible. We fish fresh and saltwater together, and they love both.

We're also into ball sports. Although my oldest son is off to college now, when he was here he played varsity football and basketball. He was good, too. He made the all-state team as a wide receiver his senior year. He was also the primary receiver for the quarterback that beat Tim Tebow's high school pass-completion record.

The younger one, now a junior in high school, also plays. But he's more the lineman type. Curiously, he's also a very talented thespian. He won actor of the year two years in a row! Not sure where he got that from.

Seeing how accomplished my two sons are helps, especially when I'm struggling in tournaments. Both boys try to spur me on, just as I do each of them. And that's good. I want to perform well, for them especially.

Now that they're old enough, they're beginning to see how challenging my profession can be. As little guys, they had no real clue. In their eyes, Dad had the "killer job." But now that they've witnessed the tougher times and the many sacrifices I'm forced to make, they have a much better understanding.

Putting It In Perspective

My situation isn’t unique. Other anglers deal with sacrifices and occasional slumps. Take Chris Lane, for instance. He's a prime example of how quickly things can turn around in your life.

A few years ago Chris hit rock bottom. He was having his worst year on tour and it all came to a head at the final event of the season. To avert any additional financial stress, he decided to move his wife and three young children to Lake Guntersville, Alabama, where he guided full time to get back on track.

Chris fought hard and eventually found light at the end of a very long tunnel. Just two months ago he won the sport's most prestigious event — the Bassmaster Classic.

Here's a guy who was so down on his luck he nearly had to give up his dream, yet two years later he's on top of the world.

Others haven't been so fortunate. Attrition is very high in our sport. Many highly skilled anglers come and go — never receiving the breaks needed to survive. In that regard, tournament fishing can be brutal. When I look back at the many aspiring young anglers that tried to make their mark, only to have their dreams dashed, it's sad. But that's part of it.

And like Chris, I can’t give up … not with two young sons watching. Dad still has something to prove!