How to Fish Professionally | What’s the Best Path?

How to fish professionally… that’s an interesting question.

And not to skirt the question, but it is one that has several different answers for different anglers. Furthermore, I’m not sure that I have the best track record for answering this question… I had the same question posed to me over the phone by a young angler during an interview regarding his recent BFL All-American win about 10 years ago.

He was a young guy and I had just wrapped up a pretty eventful college career. So when he asked me if he should fish the college trails or roll the dice and go straight to the FLW Tour, I told him he’d be crazy not to fish the college fishing circuit. It was way less expensive and by far the easiest route at the time to either the Bassmaster Classic or the Forrest Wood Cup. 

How to Fish Professionally

Well his name was Jacob Wheeler and his “crazy decision” to jump into the Tour resulted in him winning the Forrest Wood Cup the following year on Lake Lanier in 2011… so yeah, maybe I don’t know the best route to becoming a professional angler. 

How to Fish Professionally | Are You in High School? 

If you’re in high school and have the slightest interest in becoming a professional angler one day, get into the high school fishing scene. 

That wasn’t around when I was in school. I was lucky enough to have a dad who fished and was able to teach me a lot. But high school fishing is a great base for a young angler to grow competitively.

As long as you actually do try to grow and don’t rely solely on your boat captain to find fish for you and do everything but set the hook and reel them in.

That is not beneficial to your growth as an angler. It will ultimately result in you becoming dependent on information and you’ll burn out as an angler when that information dries up later in your career. 

How to Fish Professionally | Dive into the College Fishing Scene

If you are college aged, definitely get into the college fishing scene.

Sure, I shot and missed with Jacob Wheeler, but chances are you’re not Jacob Wheeler, sorry, those are just the odds. People like Jacob are few and far between to say the least. But I do know a guy who fished the college trail and went on to win two Bassmaster Classics — my former partner and Auburn Bass Club teammate Jordan Lee. He is pretty good too and college fishing was the right route for him. 

How to Fish Professionally(2)

If you can compete in the college fishing ranks, you can compete in the pros. 

That has been proven time and time again over the last decade. You can always dabble in other competitive circuits while you’re still in college as well. I did that with the BFL’s and then the Everstart (now Toyota) Series and had some success. (Look at what Cody Huff just did, winning the Toyota Series event on Toledo Bend while still finishing up his senior year of collegiate fishing.)

There are some sticks competing in the college ranks, more now than ever. So college fishing is a great route if you’re in that age group, but certainly no cake walk.

How to Fish Professionally | “You Have to Put in the Work”

And there is no cake walk to the pro level if that’s what you’re looking for. Sure you can still jump right into the FLW Pro Circuit if you have the money, but if your skill set doesn’t measure up, you’ll get your teeth kicked in.

You have to put in the work.

The Bass Federation, B.A.S.S. Nation, BFLs and ABAs are all great options locally, along with a whole host of others for an angler to see if he or she has what it takes to compete. If you can dominate locally, there’s a great chance you can at least compete and cash checks nationally. 

How to Fish Professionally | Try the Mid-Level Events

There’s the FLW Toyota Series and the Bassmaster Opens.

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You may find the same to be true that I saw with my fishing. I actually fish better on the road than I do locally. Around the house, I’ll get in a rut and find myself fishing old milk runs with FOMO should I run new water. But when I travel to lakes that I don’t know that well, I find myself competing better while in pursuit of what those fish are doing on that exact day. 

How to Fish Professionally | Best Route? It Depends

So the best route to becoming a professional angler really depends on the angler. And we should also take a look at what defines a “professional angler.

I recently wrote a piece discussing the overlooked “local pro” route for Wired2Fish documenting Alabama hammer Michael Smith. Smith has likely profited more by fishing around the house over the last few years than 60% of the touring national pros.

So what does professional mean to you? 

To me, it’s someone who can pay the bills with a rod and reel in their hand. And that is an extremely hard thing to do. If you want to do that, assess yourself. Look at your current skillset, what trails you are eligible for and make the decision for yourself. There’s no right or wrong decision really, just various paths to the top. If you’re good enough to compete at the top, you’ll be able to traverse any road.

But that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy.

This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert

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Shaye Baker


Shaye Baker started fishing with his dad in Alabama as soon as they could find a life jacket small enough to fit him. Competing with his father in local tournaments, Shaye quickly found a hunger for competitive bass fishing. He furthered his fishing career at Auburn University helping to establish the Auburn University Bass Fishing Club. While at Auburn, Shaye served as the President of the club and qualified to fish on the traveling team amassing six Top 5 finishes including two 3rd place finishes in consecutive FLW College Fishing National Championships. While beginning to dabble in the world of outdoor journalism, Shaye continued to fish semi-pro events finishing in the Top 5 in the Bassmaster Opens, FLW Costa Series and BFLs. Finding himself at a crossroads, Shaye chose to put down the rod and pick up the pen and camera to focus on his career in outdoor journalism. Shaye has had work featured in Bassmaster Magazine, FLW Outdoors Magazine, B.A.S.S.Times and the Japanese bass fishing magazine Basser. Shaye has also had work featured on ESPN and, and While working with B.A.S.S., Shaye initiated and spearheaded their GoPro division which brought more video coverage to the fans than had ever been done before in competitive fishing. After his tenure with some of the best companies in the business, Shaye identified a need for competitive fishing where participation didn’t cost a fortune. By founding UPLOADED, the Online Fishing Series, Shaye established a free tournament series where anglers could film their fish catches and upload their videos to compete against other anglers for prizes.

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ANGLR Expert, Shaye Baker

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