Making the Elites by planning ahead


James Overstreet

What do you do when your lifelong dream is to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series, and you have to come up with near $50k in entry fees? The answer is: Whatever it takes. Many anglers have had to turn down the invitation due to financial obligations. In my case that was not even an option — I was going to make it no matter what.

Like many of the new Elite Series qualifiers, I started pursuing sponsorships immediately after qualifying in late October after the final Bassmaster Central Open. Obtaining paying sponsorship is tough these days. It’s not hard to find companies that will give you a product deal, but it’s far from easy to convince someone to give you money; every angler has experienced this. Although the product support is helpful it does not put gas in your boat, cover entry fees, hotels, food, etc. Those costs alone can run you close to $80k per year.

Although I was able to find support from several companies — and I am forever grateful to them for betting on me — I still had to find a way to come up with a large sum of cash to keep from breaking the bank.

When this all started I was 100 percent on my own. I’ve never had anyone give me anything for free, outside of my childhood and I’m grateful for that. My parents gave me a great life start, but raised me to work hard for things that I wanted. That’s why my career is starting later in life, and hence the reason I’m so concerned about doing it right.

I had to set myself up financially to even take this step, and having a great career at Shell Chemical made it possible for me to do this. After saving my money for many years, and competing when I could, I finally quit my job to pursue a fulltime fishing career in 2015. (Let me tell you: When you think you have saved enough, you’re not even close to what it costs to start your career. Keep saving.)

I believe you need to be prepared for a five-year run at it, assuming you don’t land great sponsorships along the way. You have to base your plan on not getting any financial backing so you can leave the stress of the finances at the dock and just go fishing. I quit my job before I qualified for anything, and that was the biggest risk in my plan. I saved for my five-year plan, which took about 10 years.

As I was getting older, I got more anxious and decided to quit my job early and fish everything I could to either qualify for the FLW Tour or the Elites. Luckily I qualified for the Tour on my first attempt, and that provided some wiggle room in my plan. It also allowed me to fish for real money in 2016, and start building paying relationships with sponsors. This was important because expectations change once you get put on the payroll — that’s when the work begins.

These relationships are imperative to surviving in this sport. When you do not have a lot of money like myself, you have to be more than willing to take on the challenges.

Currently, I’m two years into my five-year plan and have qualified for the Elite series in 2017. Now I’m faced with the largest financial investment I’ve ever had to make besides buying a house. The only difference between buying a house and fishing the Elite Series is that the heavy hitters in the Elite series will take your house and throw a party in it after the season.

This is the crossroad that anglers get to when they qualify. Are you willing to bet your house that you can hang with the best in the world? Trust me, the doubt is real, but the decision was a no brainer in my mind.

I just had to be smart about it. I had to reset my five-year plan. I have to survive five years in the Elites for my paying sponsorship relationships to grow enough to be able to afford to make a legitimate living at this. I figured that after five years my business approach would become a big selling point for potential partnerships.

It’s imperative that all of this makes business sense. Key phrase: “Business sense.” You see, this is a business, plain and simple. You have to make the initial investments to start up the business, and it’s normal if you’re not sure about survival — that’s where a sound business plan comes into play.

Your passion for the business will make you invest regardless, but you have to be smart about your passion and do it right. I’ve studied all sides of professional fishing just like any business owner should before he bites the bullet. I understand all of the risk and the competition I am up against. I’m going into this investment with a plan and the mishaps are already pre-calculated. I just keep telling myself: “Be smart, you only have one shot at this!”

Having said all of that, I realized to implement extra security into my plan I needed to reset my five-year financial plan. I didn’t feel my money was right after the first two years of competition, so I had to fix that and maintain my budget, ASAP. Without the budget, the plan was nothing. I wasn’t going to base this on business luck. Fishing luck is one thing, but business has to be calculated.

I spent to first two weeks after qualifying for the Elites on the phone setting up the right deals with the right people that I wanted to work with. Some old, and some new that I’m very excited about.

After that was done I still needed to get my hands on as much money as possible before the season started. I looked towards my title sponsor. A company called Catalyst Handling Resources. CHR is a global company that specialized in catalyst change-outs in chemical plants and refinery’s. CHR allows me to work for them part time when I am not fishing, and the company also contributes to my fishing career.

This unique opportunity has them as my title sponsor. I didn’t go to CHR asking for them to give me more money. I went to them and asked how I can earn more before the season started. This meant no time for a break. I got on a plane and flew to Kuwait to work around the clock. Yes, go to the Middle East and work for it.

I didn’t want a handout because they do more than enough for me. This was exactly what I needed. The opportunity allowed me to make some extra money and pad my five-year financial plan. Having money off my mind this season will be very helpful.

Overthinking often leads to failure for me; I have to fish freely. By letting my natural intuition take over I just fish better. One thing is for sure: The money won’t be on my mind this year and I’ll have my plan back on track. Bad days are expected, but the real plan is how I handle them afterwards.

I’ll be back from Kuwait soon and I’ll be ready to compete.