The Dreaded Fishing Budget

Budgets! We all have them (or should have them) and following them can be an issue at times. Some tournament anglers are sponsored, but even they still have a budget they have to follow. It doesn’t matter if your budget for the season is in the tens of thousands or in the hundreds, we all have the same questions and issues; and we all must make the same tough decisions when it comes to our seasons. What I will talk about here is my thought process as I go about allocating my budget for the season. I will discuss the tough decisions I make, sacrifices I decide are worth it, and how I weigh the pros and cons of various items. These are my personal decisions. They may not apply to you, and you may make the opposite choices. That’s OK. I just hope that this article may help you see more sides and maybe take more things into consideration when you sit down to make your fishing budget.

Let’s start at the beginning. First thing is first is you need to determine your total budget, and it’s important to be realistic! How much can you truly afford to spend this season? Look at your income, talk it over with your family, and set a number. I’ve found it helps to also break that down into months! If you set a season budget of $2,000 and go out and spend $1,800 in April and May, you’ll be out of funds by the time summer rolls around. One helpful tip is to use your direct deposit to your advantage. I have a dedicated account for fishing expenses. A small amount is deposited every paycheck directly into that account and the rest into my normal household account. This gives me a steady stream of money for fishing expenses.

So you have your total budget set. You know how much money is coming in, and when it comes in (per paycheck, monthly allowances, Tax returns, etc.). What’s next?

Before you go spending anything you need to take stock of what you have! Inventory your tackle, your rods, reels, boat accessories, etc. right down to counting how many packages of each plastics you have. This will be especially helpful once you start to do it each year. You can start to determine how much tackle you actually go through in a year, and that will help dial in a true cost for tackle replacement.

Now that you know what you have, the fun part comes! Time to start making lists. This is where you can go wild. List EVERYTHING you want or want to do and the associated cost. You want a new Ranger Bass Boat? Put it on the list! You want to replace your entire collection of rods with FX Custom Rods? Put it on the list! You want to spend a week fishing in Florida before a tournament? On the list it goes! I break my lists down into six categories in a spreadsheet (makes the math that comes later easier). My categories are:

  • Tackle – This is for new baits, lures, line, storage trays, tungsten, etc.
  • Rods/Reels – This category is for new, or upgrades to my rod and reel set-ups. 
  • Kayak – This is where I would put accessories like rod holders, carts, krates, nets, electronics, mounts, etc.
  • Apparel – Fishing jersey, shirts, sunglasses, sunscreen, boots, etc.
  • Tournaments/Trips – This is a complicated one. For each trip or tournament you want to take, you must figure out the total cost. Make sure to take into account fuel, tolls, food, lodging, entry fees, out of state licenses, launch fees, etc.
  • Transportation – This is for things like new kayak racks for the SUV, Rod Tubes, Trailers, RVs, maybe a dedicated tournament van or box truck.

Once you’ve completed the list, just for fun, total it ALL up! Did you just have a minor conniption? Probably need to hit the PowerBall to afford it all. But that’s why we are doing this exercise because next comes the sad part, paring the lists down to fit your budget.

I like to start by going into each category and first identifying items that are a true need. Do you need a new boat? Well if your old one is leaking then maybe, but chances are it’s still serviceable. If you lost a rod overboard, replacing it may be a need if it was a technique specific rod that you use a lot. Replacement tackle is a big need, you can’t fish without it. Kind of hard to throw a Texas rig if you’re all out of worm weights. Bottom line is this first group of items should be things you can’t actually go fishing without. 

Saved a few dollars this year by getting the company I work for to sponsor my jersey in exchange for putting their logo on it.

Finally the tough part begins. This is where my priorities may differ from yours, and my priorities this season may even be different than they were last year or will be next year. You’ve taken your total budget and subtracted your absolute needs. How do you allocate what’s left? This season I immediately took the remainder and jumped over to the tournament category of my lists. Last year I prioritized purchasing some new rod and reel set-ups and some kayak accessories. It meant I couldn’t do a few tournaments I really wanted to, but I felt that the new gear was more important at the time.

This season, I feel I can manage with what I currently have. Obviously there are certainly some things I still want. For example, the Boonedox Landing Gear. It would make my life a lot easier at the boat ramp. But the cost for that is $230. I already own a different kayak cart and for the same $230, I can take $30 and mod my cart to fit my Hobie Outback better. This leaves $200 extra which would cover the entry fee for two KBF Trail events. Or it could pay for about 1,500 miles in fuel. That tradeoff is worth the little extra effort at the ramp.

This year I prioritized doing more elite tournaments and you can read about how I went about setting my schedule here: Planning My Season But even within that I was still forced to find ways to stretch my budget. Lodging is a large expense when traveling for tournaments. Last year I slept in my truck a few times and for the most part it was pretty miserable. But the cost of a few nights in a motel would mean fewer tournaments I can go to. My solution, take a small portion of my budget to build a better sleeping compartment in the truck (I will do a blog about my travel set-up shortly). Food is a necessary cost. I may end up eating canned soup in my truck after a tournament instead of hitting a nice restaurant with some other anglers after a day of prefishing, but at least I was able to go. While we’re on the topic of food, another thing I did was stock up on some of the food items I typically eat in the kayak. Stopping at Dunkin on the way to the ramp may be fun, but stocking up on LaraBars and RedBull now when I can find them on sale will save me enough to pay for a club tournament entry fee or two.

This season I can honestly say I dumped 90% of my non-necessary budget into the Tournaments and Trips category. Yours will be different, but don’t despair when you see all the items you can’t afford this season because there is one last step to all this, and it’s a fun one. Winnings Purchases! If you’ve managed to squeeze some tournaments into your fishing budget, there’s a chance you could walk away from one (or a few) with a pocket full of cash. This step is fun, but also important. Take the items you couldn’t afford; maybe it’s a special tournament you wanted to do but couldn’t make happen, maybe it’s that high end reel you’ve dreamed of, or maybe it’s just a night out with the spouse to make up for the long nights on the road. Either way, prioritize how you spend them now because it’s easy to lose track and wind up blowing it all when that check clears.

This season you may buy some $100 fishing shirts, $200 sunglasses, and put a $200 lighting kit on your kayak and that’s great! But if you do, don’t complain about not having $100 for a tournament entry fee. We are all bound by some kind of budget, and how we spend that is our own choice. A lucky few may have a little bit larger of a budget; but if yours is only enough for a can of worms and a 12-pack of beer then call up a buddy, head on down to the local pond, pop a cold one, and enjoy! Because if you have fishing rod in your hands and a friend by your side, I’d say you spent your budget wisely. 

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