When the season ends and the tournaments are over, professional anglers head home and kick up their feet in front of the fireplace and relax right? Well, not exactly. Professional fishing is a year round sport now and it might surprise you to know what some of the pros do when they’re not on the circuit. I had an opportunity to talk with Elite Series pro Fred Roumbanis and found out he, like many other pros, has a full plate during the off-season. His responsibilities include sponsorship obligations, speaking engagements, seminars at boat shows, and teaching at The Bass University, just to mention a few. However, it also might surprise you to know that pros like Fred offer their time and talents to some really important charitable events that don’t earn them a penny. One such charity event Fred attended was during a recent trip to Mexico’s Lake Aqua Milpa and an extraordinary fishing camp called Fission Mission Adventures. Fishin Mission Adventures is a camp built by David Sanders who saw a need and acted on it after visiting an orphanage called Casa de Ninos in a neighboring area while on a mission trip as a volunteer. David was so moved by what he saw that he sold his home in Oregon and built this camp which is nestled high in the beautiful Sierra Madras mountains on Mexico’s 55,000 acre Lake Aqua Milpa. Casa de Ninos was started over 40 years ago by Dr. Frank Gonzales, a minister who visited the area in the late 1960’s and saw young boys living among inmates in the local prison. Most of the children were homeless and because there was no children’s home in the area, the state had no choice but to put the boys in with the adult prisoners. So, in 1970, Dr. Gonzales broke ground and began construction of Casa de Ninos, and it has served as a safe haven for orphaned, abused, and abandoned children for nearly 40 years. Fishin Mission Adventures was established in order to help Casa de Ninos and 25 cents of every dollar spent on Fishin Mission Adventure trips go directly to Casa de Ninos for the care and support of the kids. All remaining funds are used for operational costs. It’s as simple as that. Fred raved about the facilities, food, and fishing. The lake was stocked with 300,000 Florida largemouth in the mid-1990’s and anglers making the trip to Aqua Milpa are reaping the benefits today. Fish in the 4-8lb class are abundant and it’s not unusual for an angler to catch over a 100 fish a day. Fred and fellow pro angler Mike Tuck filmed a TV show there recently while competing in a charity tournament they called Battle Below the Border. Fred described the fishing as incredible, but the fact that 25% of all the proceeds from an anglers stay go towards the orphanage at Casa de Ninos puts it in a totally different class. One other interesting coincidence is that Fred pointed out that if you look at an overhead view of the lake it is shaped like a cross. Obviously, it’s a blessed place.
After hearing the passion in Fred’s voice describing his time at Fishin Mission Adventures it’s obvious why he’s one of professional bass fishing’s most likable guys. Fred is a 31 year old California native who now resides in Oklahoma, but started fishing in California when he was 8 years old with a Zebco 33 that his grandfather gave him. He recalls the story of how he caught his first largemouth while fishing with salmon eggs with that Zebco 33 for trout. After catching his first bass he knew he was hooked. A really interesting side note is that Fred’s father-in-law was the man who patented the Zebco 33. “It was fate I thought,” he told me. As a youngster Fred was interested in lots of sports including, skateboarding, snowboarding, BMX, and football. But fishing is what really peaked his interest. Fred’s fishing profession began with a job at a tackle shop where he gained a wealth of knowledge and also made a lot of contacts in the industry. He credits the time and experience “behind the counter” as giving him a great understanding of the business side of professional bass fishing. Those contacts eventually led to other opportunities in the industry as a manufacturer’s rep and then later a position with Okuma reels that allowed him the time needed to start pursuing the sport professionally through the Stren Everstart tournament series. It was through the Everstart series that he qualified for the FLW tour and was able to fish that tour for a season. At the end of that year Fred finished 101 in a field that qualified the top 100 for the following season. Although disappointing, Fred sees that as a crucial point in his career because it led to his decision to fish the Bassmaster Western Open events which qualified him for the Bassmaster tour. Fred admits that his first years were pretty tough and it was while fishing the Euro Cup in Spain, that fellow pro Kelly Jordan gave him some inspiration that he’s never forgotten. Fred shared with me that Kelly may not know to this day just how pivotal that conversation was to him. “Kelly got me pumped up that day and told me not to give up.” He reassured Fred that it takes a couple of years to get things going and it was the encouragement from that conversation that gave Fred a renewed conviction that he was on the right path and Kelly’s encouragement meant everything to him. “I don’t know if I ever told him that,” recalled Fred.
The following season, Fred qualified for the FLW tour again through the Everstart and Western Series. He also fished the Bassmaster Opens out West and was able to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series. During that period, with limited sponsorship, he was fortunate enough to cash some good checks and win a couple of boats which sustained him in the sport, but he still longed for that “big“ win to put him over the top. And he didn’t know it, but it wasn’t far off. In 2007 due to scheduling conflicts, Fred was forced to make a choice between B.A.S.S. and FLW and ended up fulfilling a childhood dream by becoming a full time B.A.S.S. Elite Series pro. This refreshed and renewed his drive, again thinking back on that conversation he had with Kelly Jordan. The 2007 season started fairly well for Fred with 2 top 20 finishes, a 19th place finish at Lake Amistad in March and a 20th place finish at the Golden State Shootout on Clear Lake in April. Then the day that all pros dream of; the tournament where you put everything together and make all the right decisions. That day came on May 20, 2007 for Fred on High Rock Lake at the Bassmaster American Major event. It was his first Elite Series win and as he told me, “Once you win one tournament it frees your mind.” A lot of the questions, near misses, failures, and struggles were answered and evident in his voice as we talked about that win and I shared my memories of seeing the program on ESPN as he realized a lifelong dream was about to be achieved. From that point forward Fred admits to fishing much more relaxed and focused and believes that victory was a huge turning point for him mentally in the sport. “I knew I could do it, but I also knew how to fail.” Fred said as he looks back at the days leading up to and following his first major win, he knew he always had the ability to win but getting that first win just made his approach to future tournaments different.
His approach is hard to argue with and results of his tournaments have proven that, with a follow-up victory in 2008 at the Elite Series Carolina Clash on Lake Murray, SC. To date Fred has 13 top 20 finishes, 5 top 10 finishes, and 1 additional 1st place, since that initial win on High Rock Lake. Fred says he now reminds himself and others that we’re really fishing against the fish, and in particular, the next fish. Don’t get caught up in the 5th fish before you have keeper number one in the livewell. Also, Fred says he’s learned that you can’t win a tournament on day one, but you can sometimes lose it with your strategy. “Fish each day for just that, today, because tomorrow conditions may be completely different for you and for the others you’re competing against,” Fred suggests. He now focuses on exhausting a pattern or area before he jumps around too quickly to other areas. Fred believes if you had the confidence to come there, you need to give yourself and the area an opportunity to produce. A lot can change in 24 hours in a multi-day tournament. Everyone can have a bad day, but Fred now looks at those days differently, he knows that he can go out and reverse his fortunes on the next day. “You don’t approach it as though you can’t win, you approach from I can still win this,” Fred emphasizes.
Fred is more pumped than ever about the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series and his future in the sport and is currently working on several signature series lures with some of his sponsors. He sees lure design as another area to expand his success in the sport and is especially appreciative of his sponsors which include: Triton boats, Mercury, IMA lures, Ardent reels, Optimum swim baits, Snagproof, Zappu, and P-Line. His focus for 2010 is to have a game plan at each event and to keep the passion that got him to this level in the sport, and his #1 goal is to get to the post season. He says he intends to take each tournament one tournament at a time and just really focus on that event, without looking down the road to the next event. Fred has learned from past experience that counting on a high finish in a tournament several months down the road can end up being one of your most disappointing times of the season if you don’t do well. And Fred also suggests to all tournament anglers at every level to not overlook the “little things”. He concentrates on replacing all his hooks with Gamakatsu hooks, respooling reels frequently, checking rod guides for cracks, and checking line constantly. Don’t ignore that small nick in the line, re-tie, re-tie, re-tie. The “little things” only take a few minutes of your time, but it can make a tremendous difference over the course of a season. A few lost big bites can mean the difference between making a check or making the Classic depending on your level in the sport. It’s always refreshing to talk with an energetic, successful, yet humble guy like California native Fred Roumbainis. Fred told me over and over again how he feels so blessed and so fortunate to make a living doing what he loves and and wants to be able to give back to the sport whenever possible. Years of hard work and determination go into a successful pro career and there’s no doubt when to talk with Fred that he appreciates everyone who has helped him get to the level he’s at today. It’s obvious his passion and dedication has taken him a long way in this sport and I think we can look to see his name at the top of the leader board for years to come on the tournament trail. His charitable time at Lake Aqua Milpa this off-season is just one example that shows just how dedicated and unselfish professional fishermen can be and that there really is no such thing as an off-season.