becoming-a-full-time-professional-tournament-angler

Becoming a Full-Time Professional Tournament Angler

As I make plans for the new year and the upcoming tournament season, I can’t help but reflect on how this journey to becoming a professional tournament angler started. In fact, I would say it is the number one question I get asked: How did I, and conversely, how does someone become a professional tournament angler?

Answering this question has always been a challenge for me. A better list would be things to do vs. not to do. I have always learned by trial and error and the past three years of fishing have been the same. I don’t know if I can in good conscience recommend some of the decisions I have made to get to this point. But this is how my journey became a reality and some recommendations I would make to someone wanting to get into it.

Raising a Professional Tournament Angler

It would be easy to say fishing tournaments started when I qualified for what was the Major League Fishing Pro Circuit. However, I believe my journey started long before I even knew there was such a thing as fishing tournaments.

Growing up, I had a passion for fishing. I was fortunate my parents would take me to ponds and creeks to fish all the time.

It’s funny to me to look back on my memories. I’m the type of person who can completely forget what I went to the grocery store for. Yet, I vividly remember fishing details. Like watching my line as a kid to make sure I hooked the sunfish before they robbed my worm from my hook.

From an early age, I have been eaten up with fishing. I believe these fishing experiences as a kid are where my journey started. Then tournaments sprung me to where I am today.

kyle gelles youth angler tournament

Getting Started: Fishing Tournaments

My parents weren’t into tournament fishing. I didn’t know anyone who tournament fished. I had seen a few professional tournament anglers in magazines, but growing up I had no idea fishing tournaments existed so close to my home.

One day I met this guy while I was in the tackle shop getting a few hooks for my next fishing adventure. He introduced me to the president of the local bass club, who ended up taking me to my first fishing tournament. This sparked my passion for tournament fishing. Which led to fishing more tournaments and saving up for my first boat, and well… you get the story. I was hooked.

An Addiction

My addiction to tournament fishing grew. After college, I fished in as many local tournaments as I possibly could. When that wasn’t enough, I saved my vacation time for two years to compete in a full division of the Major League Fishing Toyota Series out West. I just love competing and fishing.

After the Toyota Series that year, I received a phone call about the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit. If I wanted to fish it, the deposits were going to be due soon. It never dawned on me that I would accept the opportunity, but I told them I would think about it for a few days and get back to them. The idea festered.

WHEN AN OPPORTUNITY COMES KNOCKIN

Since college, I had been working and saving my pennies, but I never had a plan for my savings. I had enough saved up to pay for the Pro Circuit entry fees and still have a little cash to travel with. Using my savings for this chance felt crazy, right, and exciting.

When I talked to my job about this opportunity they did everything within their means to try and support me. Given the nature of the work and the travel schedule of the Pro Circuit, I eventually needed to decide between one or the other. I committed to my decision and turned in my notice that I was leaving. I signed up for more events because I was going to make the most out of this opportunity. Fish all the places I only ever dreamed about fishing. I was all in.

kyle-gelles-pro-circuit-tournament-angler

Is It Your Time? Becoming a Professional Tournament Angler

It probably would have been wise to create a plan. Make more of a transition into such a major life change, but I felt like it was my time to try. I wouldn’t change my decision for anything. If you take anything away from my story, I hope you realize that not all anglers have it mapped out perfectly.

I didn’t have a family member already in tournaments or a major win that propelled me. Nor a thriving business that provided the finances and time to transition into fishing tournaments full-time. Contrary to what people assume and based on the number of events I fish in a season, I don’t come from a life of money.

For me, it started with a passion for the sport, taking a chance, and letting the pieces fall where they may. My family, friends, and sponsors helped make it possible along the way. None of it stemmed from a foolproof plan to get to becoming a professional tournament angler. Sometimes, it’s just about taking your shot and learning as much as you can along the way.

pro-angler-kyle-gelles-largemouth-bass

What I Have Learned Becoming a Professional Tournament Angler

It can be overwhelming when you look at the many opportunities and information out there about becoming a professional tournament angler. There are so many paths to take for the sport’s youth and adults. In hindsight, if I could go back and do it over there are some things I would focus my efforts on. If you’re thinking of making a career out of fishing or advancing to a higher level of tournament angling, these are my tips.

For the youth of the sport:

  • I recommend the high school and college fishing programs. I would say these programs are an opportunity to build fishing skills while competing on different bodies of water. It’s about becoming a versatile angler and kids coming out of these programs seem to be lightyears ahead of where I am today.
  •  Sponsors will be involved with the youth programs, so get to know these individuals and as many other anglers as you possibly can. These relationships can become valuable in the future when it comes to reaching out for sponsorships. At the very least you will know some fun individuals who could be travel partners. 
  • There are also youth camps, like Kurt Dove’s Pro Bass Camp, where you can spend a week on a body of water and learn a lifetime of fishing skills. It is also a great way to connect with other young anglers who share a passion for fishing.

For adults looking to get started:

  • If you’re like me and your youth years are behind you, I would suggest starting at the Bass Nation or TBF series of events. This is a combination of local and regional competition that I would speculate is the cheapest path to getting to some of the major national circuits.
  • Another option is fishing the BASS Opens or MLF Toyota Series as a co-angler. I still fish events every year as a co-angler and my decision to do so is to learn to become a better angler. Also, I hear chatter about forward-facing sonar and anglers who don’t belong at these ranks ruining the co-angler side of pro-am tournaments, but I would argue the contrary. Yes, some days are rough fishing, but these are the days when I have learned the most about how to catch fish. I promise if you keep an open mind in these situations and you will be surprised.
  • If travel for some of these circuits isn’t feasible because of family obligations, finances, or work. Look into the biggest circuits in your area. I know many anglers who are making more money fishing locally than most fishing the national circuits. Some still are working and some just fish, but it’s a great option without some of the risk and travel obligations.

For everyone looking to get started:

  • Everyone always asks about sponsorships. Some anglers are very valuable and some, like me, are trying to figure out how to create value and fit into the fishing industry. I have some amazing sponsors behind me whom I can’t thank enough because they have supported me through my growing pains and lack of understanding. I think the biggest thing I have taken away from my sponsor interactions the past three seasons is: sponsors are everything to maintaining a career as a professional tournament angler, but a professional tournament angler isn’t everything for a sponsor. Figure out how to create value.
  • Focus on fishing and catching fish in as many situations as you can. My learning curve has been steep the past three seasons and I still have tons more to learn. The more experience you have the quicker you should start seeing success at the national tournament level. Plus, it’s a good excuse to go fishing more.

Not just another New Year’s Goal

With a new tournament season about to start, I have business goals and goals for myself as an angler. They go hand in hand, but if I’m being honest, I feel I have missed the mark on many of my goals in the past few seasons. This next season you will see me stepping out of my comfort zone to learn and grow to be successful at these things. If I fail more, I will keep trying. Like I said earlier I learn by trial and error.

You will also see me competing in the Bassmaster Opens Elite Qualifiers instead of the MLF Invitationals. With all these changes, focusing on my fishing has been a goal at the core of all my decisions. I absolutely love tournament bass fishing and that is why I set out to do this. I don’t ever want to lose sight of that. My main goal is that through my fishing I can positively influence someone’s life. I was fortunate enough to be supported by individuals in my journey to becoming a professional tournament angler. 

kyle-gelles-family

I can’t say that I have everything figured out or that I’m even ready for the start of the season, but it’s starting to come together, and couldn’t be more excited to get back to competing.

P.S.

I promise I will have some fishing or tackle info next blog, but this month I would love to hear from you. I’ve been researching rain gear for this new season. What are you all using and how do you like it? Leave me a comment or reach out on any of my social platforms.

KYLE GELLES

KYLE GELLES

I’m an average angler who loves to tournament bass fish. I left home to chase my dream of competing full time against the best anglers in the country. Most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing, and this is my behind-the-scenes story of life on the road, fishing, and learning a little something along the way.

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I’m an average angler who loves to tournament bass fish. I left home to chase my dream of competing full time against the best anglers in the country. Most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing, and this is my behind-the-scenes story of life on the road, fishing, and learning a little something along the way.
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