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Professional Debut Part 2 - Patience! The Key to Becoming an Elite Angler & More

by Andrew Buss

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Mickey Thomas poses with a 4.21# smallmouth while his partner, a Korean War Veteran, holds a 4.11# smallmouth. These fish were caught from Platte Lake in Northern Michigan. Pro angler Chip Harrison looks on.How do you become a professional fishermen? “Patience! Patience! Patience!” is the answer 34 year-old professional angler Mickey Thomas of Edwardsburg, Michigan offers. The 2007 season saw Thomas launch his professional debut on the Southern B.A.S.S. Open Tour; however, his journey to this level began over 22 years ago.

Thomas got the bass addiction at age 12 when he won his first team tournament with his dad, Larry. Before and after that tournament, his dad served not only as a fishing partner but also as a mentor, “My biggest role model and teacher was my dad, and it started as soon as I was able to hold a rod.”

Growing up with a father who’s an avid fisherman often creates another, but Thomas’ dad did more than take him fishing; he inspired him. “I remember the first keeper largemouth that I caught with my dad on my own. He got it mounted and hung it on my wall.” That trophy has hung and served as motivation ever since. After keeping that initial bass, he instilled morals in his son by practicing catch-and-release and sportsmanship.

Posing with Thomas in front of the Hawg Tank, children get their hats autographed. The child on Thomas’ right had a birthday during the Fishing with the Pro’s event. With some encouragement from Thomas, the crowd sang “Happy Birthday.” Thomas recalls, “The child was ecstatic!”Thomas’ dad also taught him how to have fun fishing, “Some of my fondest memories growing up did not involve catching fish. One time my dad and I went on a trip and were catching them real good but then we tipped the boat over! We laughed all day.” Clearly his skill on the water began early as a child, but through the model of his dad he’s also learned to be sympathetic and encouraging to others: “I was taught to be positive when talking to other people about trying to get to the next level. You should never quit trying and always keep your dreams alive.”

Also instrumental in his development as an angler, Thomas joined a B.A.S.S. affiliated club, Four Seasons Bass Club stationed in South Bend, Indiana. He considers the knowledge he gained by competing against and with these fishermen as “great.” He credits his club fishing to becoming, “very versatile in the baits that I throw and the presentations that I bring to the table.” He remains a member today. Although he does not make many of the events, he makes it a priority to give back to the club. He encourages all to join a club as the advantages range from bait selection, fishing skill, knowledge, boat care, and camaraderie.

During the 2007 Fishing with the Pro’s event, which raises money for under-privileged children, Thomas operated the Hawg Tank. Thomas prompted several children to participate and catch fish from the tank.Along the way of winning 70 tournaments and compiling over $60,000 in winnings the past 24 years, Thomas has become involved in his local fishing community. Not only did his club keep him busy, but he has also run a weeknight tournament series the past 10 years. He, and partner Dave Clark, worked with Northern Bass Anglers Association for a number of years before branching out their own circuit: Michiana Weeknight Tournament Series (www.michianaweek nighttournamentseries.com). They maintain 2 divisions run on Tuesday & Thursday nights. “We have a bunch of great guys that make this fun for everyone.” In fact, it’s considered one of the most competitive trails in the area. Each division averages nearly 30 teams per event. They finish each season with a classic event in northern Michigan that pays out to every team who qualifies.

While being a competitive angler and running the weeknight events, Thomas has also worked for several pro staffs which he feels has been pivotal in marketing himself. “(Pro Staffs) show potential sponsors that there are other people that trust and believe in me. I believe this makes it easier for them to extend sponsorships to me.” Case in point, today his primary sponsor is Galaxy 1. Thomas met the CEO, Bob Byrd, at a fishing show while working a booth for Shimano, whose pro staff he is a member. Thomas helped Byrd pick out several quality reels and the 2 have been friends ever since. It is because of the sponsorship with Galaxy 1 that he was able to compete professionally in 2007.

Fishing professionally has been a dream of Thomas since he was young, but it is for many people. Determination has been his cornerstone. “I have watched a lot of people not follow through on their dreams until it was too late. I didn’t want this to be me.” So during the time before the sponsorship of Galaxy 1, Thomas used all of his resources at home. “I did a lot of planning and research to investigate what it would cost and I worked especially hard for my sponsors and pro staffs. I always made myself available to them when they needed me.”

Thomas also emphasizes the importance of having a strong, supportive base at home before pursuing this lifestyle. Family and friends can make this a great decision or equally destructive, “I have seen the effect of not having these things in place.” Thomas has surrounded himself with family and friends that support him and he’s forthcoming in acknowledging his gratitude for them.

Most importantly, Thomas has continued to evolve as an angler. “I am still improving my skill level every time I go out. That is the main thing that you need to do, because even the best in the world, like KVD, will tell you that he learns something every time he goes out. You never feel like you have it per say, but every time you put into play the things that you have learned and it works, it gives you a feeling that you just can’t explain.”

“Our Freedom isn’t Free,” is a theme Thomas reiterated to the crowd at Fishing with the Pro’s. After spending a day on Platte Lake with a Korean War Veteran, Thomas was shocked to hear him testify, “This was the best day of my life.” Thomas explains, “This man was terribly sick, but still managed to go fishing with me. There was no way I could have gone fishing in his condition. This man exemplifies what our veterans are made of. It’s people like this gentleman that allow Americans to pursue their dreams; I’m indebted to him and others who’ve created a country that allows me to fish and pursue my dreams.”Thomas also credits competing locally as an important step, “I think that fishing is just like any other sport. When you spend time on the water it will make you better; the more competitive you are in your local area, the more it makes you want to expand on that.”

Even with these many commitments to fishing, Thomas finds it important to balance his life with a family and career. Just as he has worked his way up in the fishing world he worked his way up in the corporate world as well. After 7 years of employment at JSI Incorporated, Thomas was promoted to vice president and has remained VP the past 10. JSI manufactures products that supply to the RV & Manufacturing housing markets. He is also a father of 3 children ranging in age 9 through 15. He has been married for 12 years. Despite his many commitments to work and fishing, family has remained the most important component in his life.

Patience has led to success for Thomas in a number of ways. It’s a principal in life that has led to success in his fishing aspirations. Do things the right way and surround yourself with supportive people. It just might be the right recipe to becoming a professional angler for you too.

Thomas archives a day spent with a Korean War Veteran during the Fishing with the Pro’s event in October 2007.
Thomas archives a day spent with a Korean War Veteran during the Fishing with the Pro’s event in October 2007.

Read Part 3 of Professional Debut
Read Part 1 of Professional Debut

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