Being a professional in the fishing business is not exactly a career choice with an obvious ladder to climb. There are no promotions, no yearly evaluation meetings with your boss, and no real defined path to follow. While there are a few ways to make a living in sportfishing, for the most part your income will be derived at least in a part from endorsements. Sure, you can make money guiding, winning derby money (though very few can make an honest profit at that), or providing written/photo/video content to other media sources, but if you want to make an actual living, you’ll probably need some cash-paying sponsors. This is where is gets tricky; lots of people can fish, but can you handle the business side of fishing?
I get a lot of emails asking about how to get sponsors. I get a lot of emails asking if my company, Fishful Thinker, will sponsor someone. And I get a lot of emails ripping on whatever product or company I may endorse, typically tying the gripe to the actual sponsorship, as though it’s a credibility thing. The email is usually something like “I’d drive a Tundra too if they gave me one”, or “of course you like Gulp Minnows…they pay you to say that!” Wrong…at least in my sponsorship case. I take the time to answer the first two scenarios personally and congruently with whatever level of professionalism was presented to me in the original email, but the last topic is tricky. Here’s a few thoughts on my personal experience with sponsors.
My entire portfolio of companies build products I’ve used successfully for a very long time. In no case does the use of the product start with the endorsement, and in no case have I signed on with a company whose product I don’t have extensive successful personal experience with. Period, end of discussion. I don’t highlight a product because they pay me to, I highlight a product because I know it will work for you for whatever purpose I mention while talking about it. That does not mean it is the only product that will work, just that it will work. If you act on my endorsement and intend to use said product in accordance with how I do, you can buy with confidence; that is my goal.
My other goal is sleeping at night, and at the end of the day all you have is your reputation. I don’t endorse products that I don’t have a deep understanding of because if I do and it does not perform as I say, you will never trust me again. Some anglers may chase the easy dollars of companies with marginal products yet strong marketing budgets, or gravitate to whatever is the latest and greatest brand and that’s their business. It is not how I conduct mine.
Remember that Tundra I mentioned in the beginning? Well, I’ve been driving Toyota trucks since college with a single exception; a certain company came out with a V8 in a smaller truck back in the 90’s and it seemed great for boat towing. Well, my “initial customer satisfaction” quickly faded when it begin failing immediately, and I eventually won a “Lemon Law” suit against the manufacturer nine months later. Back to Toyota trucks I went and have never looked back…but it was not until 2007 and my fourth Toyota truck that we had any affiliation with Toyota. For the record, I have just under 500,000 miles on the current generation of Tundra. Go ahead, ask me anything about them. Oh, and I’ve purchased nine vehicles through Pedersen Toyota…you can ask about the dealership, too.
That Berkley Gulp! Minnow? Been fishing Gulp! since it’s invention. Powerbait soft plastics, too. Been fishing Trilene since I was a kid, and there has always been an Abu Garcia reel in my tackle somewhere. Didn’t sign on with Berkely until 2006 and Abu Garcia in 2008.
I got into fishing St. Croix Rods when I started to get really serious about bass fishing in the mid 90’s; they became a sponsor in 2006. Those Costa shades I wear literally all the time? Yep, since college (graduated in 1996) yet Costa has only been a partner since 2007. How about Camp Chef? I’ve got 15 year-old cast iron of theirs, and an old stove too. Our newest sponsors are Frabill and Plano and I have products from both companies that are so old I’m not sure why I still have them around. Geez, even Sportsman’s Warehouse is a great example. They opened a store in my area back in 2002; I stopped in to check it out and left there with two new bolt action rifles and scopes…not a cheap retail trip. Two years later the company began supporting kids fishing events we were hosting by providing bait, hooks, line, and sinkers. Flash forward to now and Sportsman’s Warehouse continues to be the title partner of all things Fishful.
At this point you’d be correct in pointing out that I’m getting paid and am therefor biased; you are correct, except that I am biased towards a company’s product before I ever reach out to them regarding a sponsorship in the first place. Also, I dislike the term sponsorship; it implies a one-way relationship. In my mind, they are promotional partners that invest in me the same way they invest in any other form of marketing with the exception that experienced pro-staffers get to field test products before they make it to market. In this way, we help a company with more than just marketing and promotion.
The reason I took the time to explain all this is because I believe in what I do. I believe in sharing the greatness of living the angling lifestyle, and I believe you will be better off if you fish more. I know you’ll fish more if you catch more fish and if I can help you make informed tackle choices, you’ll fish with confidence. I’ll close by reiterating that the products we use work for us and will work for you. Other products may as well, but we know for a fact ours do. Fishful Thinker is rooted in education, sharing, and the angling lifestyle. Having great partners are what allows that to happen. One thing is for sure…my life ain’t about the money or I’d have stayed in the corporate world. Besides, I’m far richer now.