Bernie Schultz has mastered the art of professional fishing, and he’s picked up a few valuable pieces along the way. Spoiler alert — both statements address the literal as well as the figurative for a committed competitor with over three decades of B.A.S.S. experience.
Making his home in Gainesville, Fla., with his wife Kim, the Sunshine State native has been a fixture at the sport’s highest level longer than some of his fellow Elites have been alive. But notwithstanding the joy his tenured career has brought him, Schultz said this was not his original trajectory.
“I pretty much backed into this; I had no aspirations of becoming a professional fisherman,” he notes.
That’s not to say Schultz lacked interest in the sport. But while studying at the University of Florida, he simply saw a different future — one that he’s now happy he avoided.
Here’s how it all came together.
When a freshman year instructor named Larry Wilson learned of Schultz’s angling interest, he invited him to a Bassmasters of Gator Country club meeting. That led to a club tournament in which Schultz drew Shaw Grigsby, the fellow Gainesville angler who inspired him to further explore the competitive fishing scene.
After graduating in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in illustration and design and a minor in advertising, Schultz continued advancing through the local tournament scene. All the while he was working as an illustrator at a local ad agency and freelancing for private accounts to cover his modest living expenses.
Buddy tournaments exposed him to different bodies of water and fishing styles. They also prepared him for advancement into the Florida Draw Trail, where he won Angler of the Year in his second season. This, Schultz said, was when it all started coming together.
The next big move was the Hydra-Sports Trail, in which he and Grigsby won the 1983 East-West Championship. That same year, winning Florida’s Gator Division of the Red Man Series All-American convinced Schultz to commit to the course from which he’s never looked back.
“That’s when I decided to go pro,” Schultz said. “That success brought a lot of sponsorship offers. I was on top of my game; I was in the right place at the right time and was hitting on all cylinders.”
This momentum would carry him into FLW and B.A.S.S. competition. As we’ll see in a moment, Schultz’s artistic skills would ultimately determine his course.
Ask Schultz if he ever ponders a different career path, and he’ll tell you he’s 100 percent confident he made the right call.
“It’s kind of a lifestyle thing; I don’t know anything else,” he said. “What my degree would have qualified me for would be at an agency in New York or L.A. I just didn’t see myself in that role.”
Even though he decided a full-time career in visual arts was not for him, Schultz has found his education and innate talent invaluable — particularly in helping his sponsors with ads, packaging and the like.
“I’ve created a niche for myself, and it has proven beneficial over the years,” he said. “I know what a good ad looks like, I know what a bad ad looks like.
“An education is really important. I recommend that anyone who wants to make a career in fishing get some background in marketing or communications experience. Learn how to speak one-on-one with fans, sponsors and media. A lot of guys can fish, but what separates the ones that can survive in this industry is the ability to help sponsors.”
Schultz’s niche has also included media work. His writing has appeared in multiple publications from Florida Sportsman to Bassmaster.com where he’s currently a popular columnist.
Moreover, Schultz’s ability to blend his angling insights with artistic presentations has landed him numerous magazine illustration gigs. In fact, it was his role as a Bassmaster Magazine and B.A.S.S. Times illustrator that ultimately solidified his allegiance to the Bassmaster Tour, the predecessor to what is now the Bassmaster Elite Series.
With 2019 bringing a significantly different look to the bass tournament landscape, Schultz said he’s more convinced than ever that he made the right career choice over three decades ago — a choice he proudly stands by today.
A prominent antique lure collector, Schultz recognizes the value of something that’s been around for a while — a Pardee Minnow, a Hosmer Frog, his relationship with Ray Scott’s brainchild. It’s all the same sentiment.
“B.A.S.S. has afforded me opportunities that I would not have realized elsewhere,” he said. “I was able to hone my fishing skills by competing with some of the best anglers in the sport, but I was also able to enhance my writing and illustration skills by working with key media people throughout my career with B.A.S.S.
“That pulls it all together for me; I’ve had a relationship with B.A.S.S., both competitively and on the communications side. I would not have realized that anywhere else. B.A.S.S. gave me a home, and it gave me a place to showcase my skills on multiple levels, both on and off the water.”
Stressing his value for loyalty, Schultz said he appreciates the fact that B.A.S.S. has created a multifaceted stage from which to promote himself and the entities that help fuel his career.
“By being a competitor on the Elite Series — and even before on other B.A.S.S. series — that enabled me to secure sponsorship that I couldn’t have otherwise acquired. I want (young anglers) to understand that, through its multiple platforms, B.A.S.S. can deliver the right kind of exposure for anglers and their sponsors. I know they’ve done so for me.”