Kevin Short

The class system

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by Kevin Short

K-Pink-head-shot-bass-fishing-160317In one of our last outings, we took a tour through the average winnings for the past two seasons on the Elite Series and figured that an angler had to be in the top 40, pre-tax, to barely cover his cost of doing business. Obviously, this means 60-plus anglers lost money for those seasons. Or did they?

How much of a Tour-level angler’s income comes from sponsor, partner, advertiser, benefactor – or whatever label we put on them – dollars?

That’s a topic that’s been shrouded in mystery since the beginning of time. It’s not like we’re dealing with publicly traded companies or commodities here, so it’s really no one’s business except the anglers and the companies they deal with, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Common perception is that all the bassin’ pros are roiling in it – new boats, new trucks, new tackle, new duds. Just looking at it on the surface, who wouldn’t think all the anglers had 6- and 7-digit incomes? Perception ain’t always reality, Grasshoppa. What follows is what I’ve deciphered in 12 years in the trenches.

The 6.5-Percenters

A few guys at the top of the food chain literally do not have to catch a single fish during the season to pay their expenses AND can put money in the bank at the end of the year. I’ll call these guys the 6.5-percenters because that’s about how many there are in this group – around 6.5% of the field.

You can count this group on one hand. Well, maybe a hand and a couple fingers. It’s a very small number.

As you can imagine, these are your “A” players. Multiple AOY winners, multiple Classic champs, multi-time event winners are all in this group. They get the most press, have the most notoriety, and in most cases have done the most in, around and for the sport. It’s thin air up there.

The Players

A slightly larger group – the Players – is consistent. Year in and year out they catch enough basses during the course of the year to cash five to seven checks out of eight, and qualify for the Classic. This group is mostly Tour veterans who have learned the ropes on sponsor relationships and they have a stable portfolio of paying companies behind them who believe in them and what they can do to help sell product for the company.

I would say this group is about 25, maybe 30, anglers. They are totally devoted to the sport and completely committed to being the absolute best that they can be at their trade. Any one of these guys has the potential to win any given derby on the schedule. They make a decent living for themselves and their families, but are by no means at the income level of the 6.5s.

The Haves

The rest of the field I would divide into two categories: the Haves and the Haves-Not-So-Much.

The Haves are a varied bunch, capable of getting three to six checks in any given year. They might even have a banner week and win an event. They generally have some income from sponsors. For some, it’s enough to make ends meet. For others, it’s a scramble.

What most of this bunch has in common is the fact that at the end of the year, it really doesn’t matter what their bassin’ pro P&L says because they’re just playing at being a bassin’ pro.

Maybe their wife has a great job making boocoo bucks and doesn’t care if they go off and play bassin’ pro with the boys.

Maybe grandma left them a gazillion dollars and they’re just spending the interest earned.

Maybe they’re a trust-fund baby or married one and it’s all gravy.

Maybe they’re a self-made millionaire and their second life is being a pro bass dude.

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of these reasons, which all exist in the Elite Series. It is what it is. This group probably has 35-40 members in any given season. They are generally driven to perform, but perhaps not as driven as the upper two tiers for the simple fact that they don’t have to be. They’ll be able to pay their bills regardless of what they catch each day.

The Haves-Not-So-Much

The Haves-Not-So-Much are the final group and once again it’s a varied bunch of dudes. This group cashes from zero to five checks in any given season – one or two might actually jump up and win an event on the rare occasion.

There’s a wide variety of income levels here, both on and off the water. Some are out there on a wing and a prayer “livin’ the dream.” Some are taking what they think might be their “one shot at the Big Leagues.” Some make the next payment only because they made a check at the previous event.

A few don’t make it through the season. A few show up every year and I have absolutely no idea how they make it. I’ve heard this group referred to as the “donator class,” and on some level that’s a correct statement. Sad, but true.

Coming soon

Okay, I’ve broken down the numbers, laid out the food chain and told you about some of the issues with the modern-day workings of professional bass fishing. Where am I going with this? I’m setting you up to show you the direction I feel pro bassin’ must go to get off the bubble I feel it’s been stuck on the past few years. Stay tuned.

 

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