Professional athletes get all sorts of fame and fortune, but it comes at a cost. These athletes spend countless hours traveling away from home for competitions, for speaking engagements, and all sorts of other obligations.
Tournament angling is no different, except it doesn’t quite come with the fortune part. You hear the top Pros on the MLF, FLW, or BASS tours talk about wanting to get home to their families after sometimes weeks on the road. They spend at least a week away between prefishing and the tournament itself. When events are back to back it’s a tough time on everyone. Tough on the kids with a parent being gone, tough on the spouses because they are doing everything alone, and tough on the regular jobs that 90% of these anglers hold in order to afford travel and competition. Few anglers can make a career solely from tournament angling.
Maintaining a career while being a dedicated tournament angler is a very tough life and requires making difficult decisions. I work as an engineer at a environmental consulting firm. I currently get three weeks off a year and that three weeks has to get me through an entire season. Like most of us, I am forced to budget my time and pick my battles when it comes to fishing tournaments. Do I take extra days off to get there early and prefish? It would be great to explore multiple areas and try to develop a pattern. But if I do that, I won’t have those days available to take off later in the season for additional events. The result for me is I end up going into many events blind, often at lakes I have never fished before. It’s a battle we all encounter and there’s no easy answer.
For the angler looking to do well at a big event, maybe the extra time taken is worth it; but for the angler wanting to do an entire series plus championships, they’re in for a much trickier road. And all that is under the assumption that all your vacation time can be spent on fishing. It means sacrificing those trips to Disney, it means those days you’re not feeling 100% you can’t call in sick. It means that beautiful Tuesday in June when all your friends are heading to the lake, you have to stay at work. It means working long days early in the week so you hit your 40 hours, and can take Friday off without using vacation time. This is what it takes to be a dedicated angler.
Obviously the other side of this coin is having the support of your family because they are sacrificing just as you are. Days and weeks without you around. Household chores going undone. Soccer games and ballet recitals missed. They deserve so much credit for allowing tournament anglers to do what they do.
The Importance of Family
I can’t sit here and write about whats its like to leave your family behind. I am currently in a place in my life where I don’t have those obligations (whether I’m lucky, or unlucky depends on who you talk to). I have my dog and a great group of friends and family that help take care of her when I go out of town for multiple days. My house gets neglected a bit, but I find time every so often to put it back together. One thing I can talk about, is how I use my tournaments to be closer to my family.
I grew up in a reasonably large family. Both my parents had three siblings so there were many aunts, uncles, and cousins. The thing was, we were spread out all over. Big family gatherings were rare. I would only see some family a few times a year, mostly during the holidays. As I grew older and moved away for college those family meetings became even fewer. My extended family continued to spread out more and more. Weddings and funerals were about the only time we got together. As I started to realize the amount of travel I would be doing for my tournaments, I made the decision that I needed to take advantage of my time on the road.
The very first tournament I ever did was actually all the way down in Virginia on the New River. Why would I drive 9 hours for my first tournament? Well my sister lives right near the New River. I decided this was a great opportunity to get out on the water, start my season, and visit family in one big swoop. I made a weekend out of it, spent time with my sister and her family and it made the trip all the more valuable.
I continued that trend all last season. I deliberately chose events where it was possible to see family. I traveled to the Lake St. Clair event and on the way back, I swung down near Pittsburgh to visit my aunt, grandmother, and some cousins that lived right there. I stopped in Buffalo on my way home to see old friends. In between the East/West Harbor event in Ohio and the LaCrosse Wisconsin event I made the short jaunt down near Pittsburgh again.
Prior to last year, I only got down to see my family there about every other year. It wasn’t enough. We lost my grandmother last fall. Whenever we lose someone, we all wish we had more time. Wished we had made the time. For me, because of fishing tournaments, I had gotten to see her and spend the time with her that I otherwise wouldn’t have.
When I traveled down to Louisiana for the National Championships, I stopped in Cincinnati for the night to see my cousin and his family. It was close to half way, and an ideal stop. I got a home cooked meal, slept in a bed, and got to spend time with family. On the way home, I took a different route up through Virginia so I could see my sister and her family. I spent the night there, and the next morning I stopped a few hours up the road to have breakfast with my brother and his wife. What used to be a once a year visit has turned into regular thing and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Dedication to tournament angling is a tough life and requires many sacrifices from both yourself and your loved ones. But it doesn’t all have to be bad. We fish in some of the most beautiful places in the country. Places with so many things to see and do and many with a rich cultural history to experience. These are perfect places to make memories with your family. You may spend a good portion of your time on the water while there, but before and after there are many opportunities to enjoy the time away with your family. Plus; wouldn’t it be nice to hoist that trophy with your loved ones there with you? And as you crisscross the country to and from your events, take that little detour to visit a cousin, an uncle, a college friend you haven’t seen in years. You’ll be glad you did.