What does it take to be a professional angler? In Part 1 we discovered that it’s a lot more than big fish, fancy boats, and tournament trophies. In fact, the most highly visible professionals in the fishing industry recognize their success depends not only on fishing prowess, but on the hard work, determination and efforts of many other industry pros who have helped them succeed.
“How do you define a fishing pro?” asks National Professional Anglers Association (NPAA) member Capt. Adam Rasmussen of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. “The simple answer is that you make your living in the fishing industry.”
By that definition, this full-time guide and tournament angler surely goes above and beyond. “There’s a lot more to being a professional angler than most people realize,” says Rasmussen. “Everybody thinks you’ve got a great job that allows you to fish every day and make a whole lot of money, but you also have a lot of expenses – and the more gear you have, the more money you need to lay out. If you target multiple species rather than specialize in one like bass, walleye or redfish, for example, you’ll need more setups and extra time on the water to acquire additional knowledge.”
Pro that he is, Rasmussen combines several aspects of the recreational fishing industry into one full-time gig. He’s been putting clients on bass, walleye, salmon, and hard-water action for 18 years now. He owns and maintains five boats and specific gear for every fish he targets. He recruits his own customers and manages a couple of guides whom he also has to keep booked and busy.
Additionally, he spends time promoting sponsors and fishes 12 to 15 tournaments a year. This season, he plans to fish all the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens. “Sure, that’s a lot to manage,” he admits, “but if you do it professionally, you have a much better chance of making money and staying afloat.”
That’s certainly the truth, believes Patrick Neu, NPAA’s president, who points out that whether you pick a single arena in which to specialize or several, you’re going to need support learning the ropes and climbing the ladder to success in this industry. That’s where the NPAA can be a big advantage.
“Our 1,400-member non-profit organization was founded to grow and protect sportfishing while providing our members the tools and association benefits needed to increase their professionalism and meet individualized goals,” Neu states. “We are an inclusive, diversified organization welcoming fishing industry workers of every type to join our ranks. Whether you are already a fishing industry pro or aspire to be one, the NPAA can help you succeed.”
Rasmussen agrees, noting several benefits of NPAA membership including an annual conference, discounts from supporting members, and a wealth of knowledgeable and successful industry pros willing to share their experiences to help shorten your learning curve.
“NPAA is a great place to network,” explains Rasmussen. “This whole industry is about knowing the right people, and you can meet them through participation. I’d highly recommend you join up and attend the annual conference as it can be a life-changing career move. It features seminars from some of the top pros in the industry talking about making fishing a full-time job and what you need to know to make smart decisions and keep succeeding.”
NPAA is focused on improving the level of professionalism within the fishing industry and watching out for anything that could affect the livelihoods of fishing professionals, continues Rasmussen. “Through their newsletter, they keep us informed about what’s going on in our field. Joining up also provides budding pros immediate affiliation with NPAA’s supporting partners, many of which offer substantial discounts on gear ranging from sunglasses to rods, reels and more. So, overall, you save money just by being a member.”
With accomplishments including a $300,000 FLW championship, over $1 million earned on professional walleye trails, and six different Angler of the Year titles from major walleye series, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that would argue Tom Keenan’s status as a fishing professional. The Hatley, Wisconsin, resident has been on the walleye tour for over 30 years while also excelling at retail management and sales for both large and small outdoors retail establishments.
“Like a lot of NPAA members, I’ve worn a few different hats in the fishing industry,” he chuckles. “Fortunately for me, the combination of being a top walleye tournament fisherman and working my way up into management on the retail end gave me solid insights to our industry. That made me especially attractive to sponsors and helped me realize that not all professionals in the fishing industry actually work on the water.”
“Whether you’re representing sponsors or your own business, you need to show a good attitude every single day, no matter your results.”
Keenan has been with the NPAA for nearly 20 years and highly recommends other anglers and fishing industry stakeholders who want to increase their level of professionalism, build their business and shorten their learning curve become members, too. One tip he offers prospective fishing industry pros is that your reputation really does matter.
“I’ve won a bunch of titles on the walleye trails,” he explains, “but I worry more about presenting a positive, professional image than my daily fish scores. Whether you’re representing sponsors or your own business, you need to show a good attitude every single day, no matter your results. That will go a long way to improving your catches, your reputation as a professional, and attracting and keeping sponsors over the years – and it’s the type of solid advice you’ll be reminded of frequently with an NPAA membership.”
Keenan believes being a pro also requires those making money in fishing give back to the industry and help grow the sport. That’s another reason, he says, to consider joining NPAA.
“I love all the knowledge, the friendships, the member discounts, business advice and professionalism of being part of NPAA,” states Keenan, “but the biggest attraction for me is that this organization is always fighting for our industry – not just the professional anglers but everyone involved in fishing. They work to protect and grow our sport through promoting and fighting for clean water, getting more kids involved in fishing, lobbying hard behind the scenes, and keeping members informed about new laws or actions that could adversely affect our livelihoods. I think of my membership as an investment in our fishing future.”
That, says Neu, is spoken like a true professional, and it’s right on point with the mission of the NPAA. “We want to be the voice of the recreational fishing industry, calling out the issues that affect the angling public and providing a voice for anyone in this country who has made angling their chosen profession, whether full-time or part-time, on the water or behind the scenes.”