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Few can make a living just fishing

Record Bee

By Terry Knight

Posted: 02/6/18

Fishing is one of the more popular recreational sports in the country. Wouldn’t it be neat to get paid for doing it? One way would be to become a professional guide. In fact, there are several full-time guides in Lake County and that is how they make their living.

The other professional fishing occupation is competing on the bass tournament circuits. Why that may sound appealing, it’s tough to make a decent living as a pro fisherman. We often hear the term “bass pro.” It creates the image of a fisherman who has the best job in the world, someone who gets to fish every day and makes thousands of dollars in the process. However, there are probably fewer than 20 fishermen in the entire state who make their living solely by tournament fishing. Most tournament fishermen in California do it as a hobby and not an occupation. It’s hard to make enough on the tournament trail to support yourself much less a family. According to one of the major bass tournament organization, the average full-time tournament fisherman grosses approximately $30,000 a year in winnings. That doesn’t include entry fees and other expenses.

 The cost to be a full-time tournament angler is steep. You must first purchase a bass boat, which will set you back at least $60,000. Then you must buy fishing rods and reels, and that’s another $1,000. Fishing tackle costs from $500-$1,000. The entry fees for the megabuck pro/ams cost from $1,000 to as much as $5,000. Then there are the travel costs. Many tournament fishermen travel more than 1,000 miles just to fish a lake. There are the motel costs and meals plus gas for the boat and towing vehicle. Typically a fisherman can count on spending at least $250 per day in living expenses. Add that to the entry fees and a tournament angler spends approximately $2,000, and he hasn’t even wet a line.

 The winner of a major bass tournament can pocket as much as $100,000 but most tournaments pay much less. Compare that with a professional golf tournament where it’s not unusual for the winner to take home more than $1 million. Of course, golf tournaments draw huge crowds where spectators spend $150 just to watch the pros. A good example is the PGA Farmers Insurance Open held last weekend. The winner took home $1,242,000. The golfer who finished 30th won $50,000.

A lot of people think tournament fishermen make loads of money from sponsors for endorsing their products. They see all those patches of tackle manufacturers on the shirt of the fisherman and think that he is raking in the dough. That’s not true. With the exception of a few top bass pros, most of the fishermen receive only a discount or a few samples of the products in return for advertising the product.

 How much does a typical bass pro make in a year? The figure may surprise you. Most fishermen in California win less than $10,000 and that doesn’t include expenses. By the time you subtract entry fees and travel expenses they are in the hole. On the national level, the average yearly income for a full-time pro is about $35,000 a year. There are a few pros on the national circuits who are millionaires, but they number less than a dozen.

The bass tournaments held on Clear Lake are typically team events where the winning team pays an entry fee of $300 and wins back approximately $2,000. These bass pros all have full-time jobs. For them, competing in a tournament is more of a recreational event. The total expense just about always exceeds any winnings.

Many of the younger bass pros envision a career where they make thousands of dollars a year and also enjoy the notoriety of being a famous bass fisherman. In truth, many last on the tournament circuit only a few years and then go back to their original jobs and fish only on weekends. As one world famous tournament fisherman once told me, “Don’t quit your day job.”

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