Making the Jump from the Federation Ranks to the Pro Circuit
My change, as a bass angler, from the federation ranks to the FLW and Bassmaster professional tours felt really natural and came quite easily. I think the reason it seemed so easy, is because of the fact that my entire fishing career has been a series of stair step progressions. I never attempted to jump into a higher level of fishing before I felt I like I was ready for it. Some fisherman try and make things happen too fast. I never really did this. My stair step progression happened as follows:
Shortly after graduating high school, I joined a local bass club. I fished small lakes and ponds with a jon boat (1992). Next, I started fishing bigger local and state federation tournaments as a rider. Then, I started to fish some national level tournaments, but I fished as an amateur (1994). I really learned a lot here! Next, I started fishing state federation tournaments and Red Man tournaments as a boater. This is where I started making all my own decisions. Then after succeeding at that level, I started fishing semi-professional tournaments like the B.A.S.S. Invitationals and Everstart Tournaments (1997). At about this same time I qualified to fish in the B.A.S.S. Federation Nationals. And after qualifying through the B.A.S.S. Invitationals and Everstart tournaments I started fishing the pro circuits, the Top 150s and FLWs (1999).
In each step of my progression I learned a little more. Each step was very important. Again, I never tried to jump into a new level of fishing until I was ready. By learning things on my own and by learning them the hard way, they have had more of a lasting impression. By the time I was ready to start fishing professionally, I have learned so many things. And not only about fishing. Also about the other topics encountered as a pro, such as boat handling, sponsorship issues, truck driving, finances, etc.
There are probably only two major differences I encountered when joining the professional circuit. The first was the size of the lakes and rivers I would be fishing. I went from fishing local smaller 10,000 acre lakes to fishing huge 30,000+ acre lakes all over the country. This can be intimidating. But by using the philosophy that a bass is a bass not matter where you go, things seemed easier. Bass will follow the same seasonal patterns and movements all over the country. Knowing this, I never changed my style of finding fish from when I fished in the federation ranks. I used the same methods of preparation I had used before.
The second major difference was more of a mental issue. The names of all my fellow competitors changed. Instead of fishing against local fisherman, I was now competing against many of the pros (Clunn, Fritts, Nixon, VanDam) I grew up reading about and idolizing. I was fishing with my heroes! But, I did not let this get to me. With total respect and honor to be fishing with some of the greatest pros around, I held the simple philosophy that I was fishing against the fish not the other pros. By keeping my efforts on figuring out the fish, I was never mentally intimidated by the 'names' of my competitors.