Winning a Bassmaster Classic is undeniably the ultimate goal of any professional bass angler. Believe it or not, winning the sport’s most coveted title never entered Matt Herren’s mind when he began a quest to fish at bass fishing’s top level.
“All I wanted to do was earn enough money to make a comfortable living, just like any other job,” said Herren, now in his 16th season as a pro, with 11 of those years in the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Early on Herren recognized that too many aspiring pro anglers set overachieving goals, missing what it takes to get there, which of course is money. Herren already lived comfortably working in his family’s automotive body shop business in Birmingham, Ala., when he was making money elsewhere.
In the late 1980s his bank grew from winning weekend tournaments, not the body shop. In 1988 a turning point came when Herren joined the Bigbee Bass Club affiliated with the Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation. The club was loaded with talent: Russ Lane, Jaime Horton and Dalton Bobo, who lost the 1997 Classic by a mere ounce.
Herren joined the club with one thing in mind and again, it was all about money.
“I saw the B.A.S.S. Nation as the path to take me to the next level, to get to where I could make it full time,” he said.
There was no intent to slowly advance through the club ranks, winning local tournaments, making the state team and advancing to the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. Herren fast-tracked the odds and did that in one season, finishing third at the championship in 1988.
“The Nation gave me the confidence that I could compete, but it still challenged my budget,” he said. “I just couldn’t make enough to quit the family business.”
Herren resumed his weekend warrior status while competing as time allowed in Bassmaster Invitationals. With an eye on the future he picked up yet another invaluable lesson about how to attain his goal.
“Full-time guys like Biffle, Brauer and Clunn were doing well because they pre-fished the lakes, while I had to go back to work,” he admitted. “It made me realize that I had to go all in to make it work for my checkbook.”
Ironically what Herren calls the break in his now successful fishing career came not on the weigh-in stage. It happened while seated in the bleachers at the 1996 Classic held in his hometown.
“I was a regular on Sundays when the Classic was there in 1992 and again in 1993,” Herren recalled. “The same guy would search me out and ask me why I wasn’t fishing with those boys.”
The reply was always the same. It was all about the money. In 1996 the same mystery man appeared again as Herren exited the bleachers after George Cochran took home the trophy.
“He said, ‘For five years now I have been telling you what to do, you’ve got my phone number, call me tomorrow,’” Herren said. “I did and learned he was an investor looking for a business, and I was it.”
A three-year deal was struck in which Herren would pay the silent partner 50 percent of his winnings in exchange for the sponsorship. In 2003 Herren joined the FLW Tour and his career took off. The investor cleared $35,000 and by all accounts it was a good deal all around.
“My biggest takeway was that everything in life happens for a reason, if you don’t try and make it happen on your plan,” he said. “I was ready to give it up, go back to work, but the man upstairs wasn’t finished with me.”
After 120 B.A.S.S. events and closing in on two decades as a pro Herren likes what he sees in the future.
“I have been fortunate to fish against some of the very best on both sides, B.A.S.S. and FLW,” he said. “The new B.A.S.S. is going to give those guys opportunities they never had, while creating the next superstars of the sport.”
“Every year there are two or three new superstars that are born, and I think those will be the younger kids who came up through the high school and college ranks,” he added. “They are just technologically smart and have access to learning more than any other way.”
Long ago Herren reached his goal of achieving financial stability as a full-time pro. What could be next on his list of goals? The answer will surprise you.
“This career has presented me with the opportunity to travel all over the country, make great friends on the tours, and meet the average anglers who were just like me,” he said. “I want to continue doing that, meeting folks and making friends along the way.”
Winning a championship was never mentioned. Why should it? Herren is living the dream on his own accord.