Brent Ehrler didn’t have any delusions of grandeur when he started fishing big-money bass tournaments during his late 20s.
His plan — and he still thinks it was a good one — was to be a general contractor, specializing in construction while fishing on the side.
But his on-the-water career took a sudden, spectacular upswing when he won the 2006 Forrest Wood Cup and its $500,000 first-place prize in only his second full season on the FLW Tour.
Now, with an FLW résumé that includes eight victories and more than $2.2 million in career earnings in nine seasons, Ehrler will be bringing his game to the 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series after finishing seventh in the 2014 Northern Open standings.
“I was pretty realistic about the whole fishing thing,” said Ehrler, who still lives in the town of Redlands, Calif., where he grew up and learned to fish with his parents as a small child.
“I never had any thought that I was going to make a career of it. I was just going to fish on the side and use construction to save my butt.”
But the opposite happened.
His Forrest Wood Cup victory came just as the housing market and construction business experienced a historic meltdown. His original safety net was gone, but his new career was taking off.
Ehrler won an FLW Tour event on Arizona’s Lake Havasu in 2009. Then in 2010, he notched a rare professional trifecta, winning an FLW Series event on California’s Lake Shasta and FLW Tour events on Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita and Missouri’s Table Rock Lake.
He won FLW Tour events in 2012 on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell — site of the upcoming 2015 GEICO Bassmaster Classic — and in 2013 on Alabama’s Smith Lake.
Despite all of his wins with FLW, the most impressive stat may be his 33 Top 10 finishes in 97 career events.
“Making this move to the Elite Series is something I’ve been thinking about for years — and something I kind of wish I had done several years ago,” Ehrler said. “But the FLW Outdoors schedule really provided more opportunities for Western anglers back when I started fishing. I just became so accustomed to that tour, and I felt really comfortable over there.”
Ehrler knows he’ll have to make some adjustments as he exits his comfort zone with FLW, but he isn’t sure exactly what they’ll be.
“For one thing, there will be a lot of new faces that I’m not used to seeing every day after following the FLW path for so many years,” Ehrler said. “It’s definitely going to be different. But it’ll be a ‘learn-on-the-job thing’ for me because I don’t know what kind of differences to expect.”
Though some Western anglers have chosen to move to other more centrally located areas to further their B.A.S.S. careers, Ehrler has no intention of leaving his California home.
He’s the quintessential California boy who enjoys rap music (and virtually anything besides country), Mexican food and a list of outdoor pursuits beyond fishing that include everything from snow skiing to golf. He says his on-the-water heroes are any Western anglers who’ve enjoyed national success, and his off-the-water hero is former Navy Seal Chris Kyle, author of the best-selling book American Sniper.
“I was born and raised here and still live in the same town,” Ehrler said. “I’m 60 miles east of Los Angeles, 90 miles north of San Diego, 50 miles from the coast, 40 miles from the desert and 40 to 50 miles from being up snow skiing in the mountains. I have everything right here, including my family and friends. There’s no reason to leave.”