I’m going to impart a little knowledge on you high schoolers today. Just an old man here, so no need to pay me any attention. I had a kid in college call me Mr. Baker recently and I about slapped him for the blatant disrespect. I’m not that old. But I know what’s it like to be in your shoes. And the difference between me and you is that I also know what it’s like in mine.
So I’m going to give you a few tips to help your angling career develop if that’s what you’re interested in. Tell you some things that worked well for me. Some things I would have liked to have done differently, and just have an all-around good heart to heart with you here for a bit.
Tip #1 for High School Anglers: Get into High School Fishing
This is obvious, but something I wish had been around when I was in high school. There was no such thing when I was there. I was lucky enough to have a dad that fished a lot and that’s where I developed my foundation in and love for fishing.
Now, you can fish competitively at such an early age and travel and see diverse fisheries, which are all crucial experiences if you want to make it to the professional fishing level.
I did get to experience similar things with college fishing at its origin. In my second semester, I joined the Auburn University Bass Club and had some awesome experiences there and met some of the best friends of my life. The only thing cooler would have been being able to do that in high school and college. So, obviously, if you’re a Junior or Senior, you should start looking towards college fishing as well. But don’t rush your life away.
I know a lot of people that hated high school when they were there but would give anything to go back now. I was the exact opposite. I chose to enjoy it as much as possible and now I look back fondly on it without much regret.
Tip #2 for High School Anglers: Diversify Your Arsenal
My dad taught me a ton about fishing. I am very fortunate to have the parents I have in many ways, but when it comes to fishing, I couldn’t have lucked out anymore that I did. Dad has won two B.A.S.S. Federation State Championships and been a solid angler on the local scene for decades now.
But… he hates a spinning rod. So I did too growing up. I went from a Zebco to a baitcaster at about 6 years old and I never even realized I skipped a step until I was in college. My finesse game needed serious work, and still does, to be honest. I can skip a baitcaster 20-feet back under a dock but can’t skip a spinning rod more than 2-feet consistently.
In this day and age, you need to be versatile to compete.
The guys leading the national trails when my dad was my age were specialists. Denny Brauer, Tommy Biffle, guys that chose to only do one or two things but did them very well. It’s extremely hard to be a one-trick pony in today’s fishing scene. Though the guys that win typically still win doing what they’re best at, they cash checks and stay consistent doing a little bit of everything.
Tip #3 for High School Anglers: Find Your Own Fish
This is one bit of advice that will be frowned upon by many of you now but looked back on one day as sage wisdom. I see a lot of high school anglers rely heavily on their dads or boat captains to find fish for them.
This is a recipe for disaster when it comes to longevity in the sport.
Now I’m talking to the boat captains for a minute, I get it. You want your anglers to do well and all the other boat captains are doing it so you feel you have to do it as well or your anglers will suffer the consequences. But you’re stunting their growth as anglers if you just pull up to a spot, say cast there, do this, do that and then expect them to be able to take what you’re handing them and understand why those fish are there, why they are behaving differently from when you found them, why they should adjust and so on.
If you want to practice together, by all means, do so. But you have to let them learn from you and the fish and not just force-feed them with a silver spoon. Because that spoon-fed stuff becomes scarcer and scarcer the farther they work their way up the competitive ladder and becomes more and more illegal according to tournament rules.
To be competitive at the highest levels, you need to be able to constantly take the situation in front of you and do a deep dive in your brain to a similar situation where you had to make a choice. That’s when you’ll need to call on all the knowledge that you’ve built up since you started making your own choices. So if you start choosing for yourself at 13, you’re way ahead of the angler that starts thinking for themselves at 22.
Tip #4 for High School Anglers: Put Your Voice Out There
This is something I did that has paid dividends throughout my fishing and professional life and continues to do so. On the final day of the 2010 FLW College Fishing National Championship, my partner and I were sitting in 4th with zero in the box at 1 o’clock. The editor and chief of FLW Magazine, Colin Moore, was in a boat nearby providing on-the-water updates.
I turned to him and said, “If this fishing thing doesn’t work out, I sure could use a job writing.” He asked if I liked to write and I replied, “I do, about fishing anyway.” And honestly, I didn’t think much more of it at the time. We went on to rally and catch a couple of 3-pounders and a 5-pounder, but it was only enough to move up to 3rd.
After the weigh-in, my dad asked if I knew Colin Moore. I, of course, said yes and acknowledged he was the editor of the magazine. Dad said, “Well he wants you to write for him.” Apparently they had talked throughout much of the hour and a half weigh-in.
So I started out writing a couple of small things for their college section and that little seed led to me having work published in FLW Magazine, Bassmaster Magazine, B.A.S.S. Times, a major Japanese fishing magazine called BASSER and several other publications both in print and online like Wired2Fish.com, Bassmaster.com, and now ANGLR.
All because I put my voice out there.
There are way more opportunities and avenues to put your own voice out there than ever before. You can start a blog like I did, even before I started writing for FLW. Or a podcast, or do Facebook LIVE or YouTube LIVE or a hundred other things. With so much content out there however, it is admittedly harder to be heard by the masses these days as well. But, the beauty of it is that you only have to be heard by the right one and then you’re off to the races.
Tip #5 for High School Anglers: Don’t Let “Making It” Steal Your Joy
This is one of the hardest lessons I learned though fishing and one that took some time for me to accept. As many of you reading this have probably already seen, I wrote an article on depression a little while back. It talks about a lot of things in my personal and professional life. One of the things I always feared was that making fishing a job would inevitably take the joy I found from it away. And it did, for a while.
Whether I was trying to develop a professional fishing career in my earlier days or a professional outdoor journalism career in my latter days, I was always dumping as much time, energy and effort as I could into my pursuits. And that’s a good thing. A noble thing. To an extent, and then it is a very unhealthy thing.
You have to be careful not to overexert yourself. Make no mistake, both fishing and working in the fishing industry are real jobs. Jobs that a lot of people want, so they’re jobs you have to work extremely hard to keep. Some of the biggest names in the game have told me on multiple instances that they could have taken the time, money, and energy they have poured into fishing and been millionaires by now in a normal job or company. The grind and the hustle are relentless.
I’m not saying don’t pursue a career in fishing.
I don’t regret my choices at all because they have me where I am and who I am today. Each valley I went through led me to a higher mountain top. I just want you to be ready for the grind and remind you, do not grind yourself down to nothing. There was a time I’d rather fish than do anything else on God’s green earth and there was a time I backed my boat in the lake, sat there for 5 minutes and then loaded it back up without ever making a cast. Burnt out and completely disinterested in the sport that I had once loved so much.
I’m in a better place now. I have a healthier relationship with fishing than I have ever had before. But the road was rough to get here.
The advice I’ll leave you with, love it. Love fishing. Profit from it, both financially and mentally if you can. There’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t expect it to be your cure-all. Enjoy it. Even lean on it to help you through tough times. I’ve had some great therapy and God moments in a boat. But you can’t ask it to be everything for you. I tried that. I learned what I’ve known since elementary school, Exodus 20:3.
Making fishing a job turns wanting to go into having to go. There are a lot of worse things than to have to go fishing. I get that. But when you don’t want to go fishing anymore, it can be a little scary. Just respect it. Learn from a budding old man’s mistakes. You’ll be glad you did someday.
This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert
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