I LOVE fishing. I love fishing tournaments. I remember a while back when I thought I wanted to be a full-time touring bass pro. I wanted it very bad. Bad enough to put almost everything else on the backburner.

What’s not to love!?!

Getting on TV! Getting your picture and your name in magazines! People wanting to be your friend (especially right after you win a tournament). That was especially before I began to learn the reality of what it means; What it takes to be a real professional bass tournament angler. Before I really knew the true cost. Not just in money and time, which is vast, but in the cost to everything important in life.

That was also before I had a significant job. Before I had a wife. Before I had a new family. Before Godchildren. And pets. And a house payment. I sometimes think I felt more free then… In reality, part of the freedom was an illusion. An illusion supported by ignorance of what is really involved, truly in the sport and business of professional bass fishing. Although the ‘job’ of pro bass angler is not taken seriously by most outside of the sport, it is one of the toughest, most difficult, exhausting and long-houred vocations you can ever pursue.

I missed a lot of things back then ‘on the road’ to becoming, possibly, a pro bass angler. I’m a smart person, but sometimes a slow learner. I don’t mean that in a cruel way.

Everyone has a speed and method of learning. I do too. And my way is kind of methodical – the same way I prepare for a tournament even now. It takes me time and a lot of thought to get myself in the right frame of mind. I take a lot of ribbing and pestering over it, but I do have the confidence to know myself in that way anyway. My growth as an angler and person has also been slow, kind of methodical.

I do put a great deal of time into information-gathering, which is overall a plus. So I can’t say I am not pretty well aware of the reality of things for some time now. I try to pass that hard won information on to others too who might be on a similar road to the ones I’ve been on (many changes in direction as I’ve evolved). I’m also not much for lying to myself. Some close to me will disagree, but they may not have the understanding they think they do of the pull this sport has had on me. And how fierce my desire has truly been. It takes a great deal to counter that pull and fierce desire.

Now, as I sit here writing this, shortly after my Father-in-law’s passing and funeral, I contemplate what I have learned about the truly important, and how that has changed me slowly, but relentlessly over time. I know that I’ve chosen my way to this seat as sure as anything by the choices I’ve made over the years. I know I stepped off the path of becoming a true touring pro bass angler quite some time ago. And I’m coming to terms and peace with that – though it has not always been a peaceful process.

There are many ways afterall to be involved in the outdoors I love as much as anything in my life short of people. And many more paths to big times tournaments than there used to be. I also know that I have made many mistakes in the past where I confused the value and priority of my sport with the importance of family and friends. Many times.

It is not hard at all to get so caught up in this sport that you end up alienated from your support base. Possibly even divorced. It happens, and we all, who partake regularly, probably know someone who has been divorced or lost a relationship at least partially due to involvement in this sport. Usually there is more to the end of a relationship than just fishing, but it plays a big part many times.

I see many young anglers around me nowadays doing the same things I have done in the past. Many are just as dedicated and fierce in their belief and desire as I have been (and still am at what I do now), but I also see them make the same mistakes I’ve made. Sometimes confusing priorities and making decisions I’m afraid they’ll regret later. Because I have done it myself.

And some do things I fear harm our sport. Being a seemingly laid-back guy who smiles a lot, I get to see close up those anglers who have confused aggressiveness and determination with bending or even breaking laws and rules.

Sitting here thinking about my family and the inevitable life changes and evolvement, fresh off the loss of my very kind Father-in-law, I can’t help wonder how any of us can get so confused as to think any of our tournaments, particularly those below a national event, are so important that they outweigh our family, our morals and what we all should know about the difference between right and wrong?

Why should any tournament be so important that any of us would forget what is really important, or worse, behave in a manner that doesn’t portray the sport or ourselves in the best possible light? One consistent thing I have seen is that most of the truly great tournament anglers I have been fortunate to spend time with are very similar in their behavior and ethics. They are all top notch human beings and unquestionably sportsmanlike. Isn’t that who any of us would want to emulate?

It is the anglers who want to be good and mostly never achieve the top of the sport who seem to be the ones who run the no wakes when they think no one is watching (the truth – someone is ALWAYS watching) or cut someone off on a spot they are already on, or follow someone to a great spot the week before so they can ‘find’ it the next weekend in their own tournament.

It is because the sport is so important to me, and because I understand the desire and how it can bend some people that I feel compelled to talk about these topics. It is because I understand confusing the significance and pressures of a tournament verses the true importance of the rest of your life; Your family.

In my opinion, NO tournament is as important as family and family needs. At some point, you will regret your decision if you put a tournament ahead of your family. I promise. And no tournament is worth giving away your morals and ethics. I still get nervous before and during every tournament to some degree, but I often get told, as I did last week, that I seem laid back. Too laid back maybe. Maybe I’m not taking the tournament seriously enough, some say…

Actually, I am very aggressive and competitive. I have just found that I fish better if can try to stay calm, keep my personality, morals and ethics, mixed with clear knowledge that this tournament, or any tournament, while important, is not as important as many other things in my life.

Some anglers, especially young ones (or the type A among us), will say I am not serious enough; That I don’t put out the effort each tournament ‘deserves.’ I say they have lost sight of what is truly important. And I feel sometimes these anglers are so caught up in proving they are taking the tournament seriously enough that they are the ones most likely to push or pass the limits of rules and sportsmanship. I also think if you put your emphasis on proving you are ‘serious’ about the event, you take emphasis away from being a technically good tournament angler.

This is similar to being too caught up in having the fastest boat, or the most expensive tackle, or the coolest tow vehicle. I see that and I feel I’m dealing with an angler who is concentrating on the wrong things. This is different than having a good, fast, efficient boat, a dependable tow vehicle, or even wearing professional looking clothing. Those are part of the scene. The difference is doing what makes you feel better about yourself as a tournament angler who may or may not want to take it to a higher level, verses getting caught up in the wrong competition.

And there is no question, that most anglers who make it a habit to bend and break rules, who don’t practice good sportsmanship, will never make it as a true pro angler. It is too competitive, and too visible and public (on and off the lake) to make it very far if you think it is okay to run a no wake when you want to, or take someone’s spot without finding it yourself, or to cut someone off on a spot they got to first or they took you to yesterday just because you want it real bad.

There is no justification for that behavior, and how anyone can get personal satisfaction and live with themself after doing something like that is something I will never understand. Nothing in tournaments is worth giving up your morals and cheating – any purposeful breaking of rules and laws you do to try to get ahead. To do so is to forget that it is, after all, just a tournament… not life. There will always be more tournaments. Always.

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