For years the road to success or failure in bass fishing was paved by many young men who set out to fulfill their dream of fishing professionally with little or no college background to fall back on if their dreams weren’t realized.  Fishing for a living has always been tough, but especially if the dreams or the dollars fizzle out before the success comes along.  The future of bass fishing looks to be quite different though as college fishing programs are gaining strength and popularity across the country.  Today college bass fishing programs offer young anglers the opportunity to both get an education and get experience on the water without having to sacrifice either.  Schooling and bass fishing are without question the way of the future for the sport.  As corporate sponsorships tighten with tough economic times, companies will seek out those individuals that possess the tools to fish at a high level as well as present themselves in a manner that is favorable to their sponsors.

One such example is FLW pro Michael Murphy of South Carolina.  Murphy is one of only a handful of professional bass anglers that has the college education and business background that make him a rarity in the industry.  He began his college years with an academic scholarship in engineering, but realized sometime later it would never be his dream line of work.  So, he shifted gears a bit and switched his major to fisheries and has never looked back.  Murphy realizes today that the doors he opened and the people he met ultimately led to his first job in the fishing industry.  “I would have never been introduced to the people in the industry that led to my opportunities if I never went to college,” explains Murphy.  And to his credit he took full benefit of those opportunities with sponsors while at the same time working towards becoming a professional angler.  Fortunately, the business skills he learned while in college were the exact skill set he needed to be successful in the industry today.  And he is quick to make the point that the pro angler of the future will need a college education to make it long term in this business.  Murphy emphasizes, “Guys without a degree will have a harder time in the future because they will not know the business side of the industry.”

While it is still about catching enough fish to cash a check, professional fishing is becoming more and more about knowing what to say and how act when you bring that bag to the scales.  Anglers of tomorrow will need what a college education offers to understand the business and marketing side of the sport.  Companies want their products positioned well in the marketplace and an angler with strong speaking skills, a professional appearance, and an understanding of the business of bass fishing, give sponsors everything they need as they search for the right people to promote their products.  That’s where a degree makes a college educated angler more marketable in the sport. “Many people have the misconception that all you have to do is catch fish,” says Murphy.  However, the angler of future will be required to spend a great amount of his or her time off the water at speaking engagements or other sponsor obligations where appearance and aptitude will become more important.  When you’re giving a seminar or at an expo your ability to communicate with industry contacts and fans will be critical.

Murphy speaks to college students regularly and advocates the importance of the education side of the sport.  “You have to be your own manager, your own coach, and your own advertising agency all at the same time,” explains Murphy.  Qualities and traits more easily gained through a college education than anywhere else.  He also recommends students choose their college electives wisely and with a purpose in mind. He recalls enrolling in a public speaking course in college because he realized the importance it would have down the road on the business side of the industry.  He emphasizes to young anglers that it is more important than ever to be in good physical shape, dress the part, and be self-motivated even when you may not feel motivated because you never know when you may encounter a sponsor or fan on the road.  Murphy sees the college fishing program as a great way to build self confidence because the college age angler will be fishing against guys that have about the same level of experience.  This way they’re not fishing against a pro of 20 years when they may only have 2 years experience themselves.  That can be humiliating and very expensive.  “College fishing is a way to get your eyes open to the reality of what this is really about,” says Murphy.  A professional angler is a person that must be equipped mentally to handle failure because even the best in the world lose more than they win.  So understanding how to handle that failure and its learning curve with the right attitude to stay positive will make for a stronger angler long term.  Even more reason to stay in school and continue your education so that you can work your way into the business gradually.  Besides, according to Murphy, the average professional angler is 38-42 years old; so make sure you’re ready to take on your dream before taking a blind leap of faith.  However, he does encourage following your dreams as far as they will take you.  If your passion is a career in fishing Murphy suggests that you go for it.  But he will also be the first to tell you that you need to have a plan “B” even if your dreams do come to fruition.  That plan “B” he refers to is college and the knowledge and security that it offers you.  Even if things go as planned you will always be able to use the skills learned during college. And if they don’t you will have alternatives to pursue after professional tournament fishing is over.  Besides, you may still end up in the industry you love in another capacity and know that you will never have regrets for not trying.  Either way you win when you can go to work every day making a living doing what you love.

Chris Harrison