Kevin Short

The class system


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.




  1. Charlie Hartley

    March 17, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    Good stuff
    The facts man!

  2. Bill Batts

    March 17, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    Let’s face it. When I ask non fishing people who KVD is and I have to explain who he is, then there will never be enough money for a real sport. Its all about the ad dollars and even those are going to get scarce in the future.

  3. michael deushane

    March 17, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    a very interesting article and I cant wait to read the rest !

  4. Larry Harper

    March 17, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    Also the introduction of “GoPro” really changed things when instant viewing made it a media sport,will never be the same…

  5. Nick Griffith

    March 18, 2016 at 11:39 am

    As always K-pink on point and truthful. Looking forward to the next installment.

  6. Matt Mahle

    March 18, 2016 at 10:11 pm

    All good info here.I remember an article by Marty Stone a few years back highlighting the 6.5’s,and that was before touring pro’s had to compete with all of the “seat sniffing patch pirates”with a YouTube channel.I personally don’t think it’s right that the anglers who lay out huge entry fees should have to compete with someone who gets a GoPro for Christmas and takes a horny toad to the local pond.It tells me that endemic sponsors don’t care who promotes their product.I appreciate K-pink clearing the air a bit here.True touring pro’s should be getting sponsored,not scab labor.Just my two cents.

  7. Mike Bush

    March 19, 2016 at 12:00 am

    Matt-You also don’t know there have been plenty of those pros on the take, not working or promoting those paying sponsors. From a business standpoint that is a huge waste of time and money. It’s bad business. I’m not defending those gopro guys entirely, but that is where the market has changed. It’s like American Idol in a way. There is an avenue that has been created that is different from the old way to break into the business. Can it or does it hurt a few guysguys trying to make a living at it? Yep…it probably does to an extent. But, those guys better be working their butt off if they want the fishing industry to pay their bills.

  8. Johnny boy

    March 19, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    Very interesting and well written as always. But leaving me wanting for more facts. Objectively on which group would you place yourself Mr. Short? Without giving names, what is the actual cash figure an angler in the 30 group can expect? What is the average boat deal?

  9. Matt Mahle

    March 19, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    Mike-So true,but I don’t believe it to be on the same scale as the music business (I am a musician also).
    I wasn’t trying to paint with a broad brush,just stating my opinion that endemic sponsors should look at tour level anglers first.

  10. Mike Bush

    March 23, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    The biggest issue in all of this….people are playing for their own money. Until the money starts hitting the hands of the Tour guys…not their buddies either…nothing will get better.

    Matt-I do understand what you are saying. But I know 1st hand of Tour level guy(s) that have done literally nothing for a brand except take the payment from them. I know its on the company to make smart choices, but you wouldnt believe some of the stuff that happens, from both sides of the coin. Angler and company. In the end, its about integrity, loyalty…and of course the payday. Too often, the payday supersedes the rest.

  11. Dick Hulcher

    April 15, 2016 at 8:45 am

    Enjoyed “Pink’s” article.

  12. Matt S

    April 15, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Kevin, something else that’s been shrouded in mystery (at least to me) for some time is how MLF plays into this all… Is this just the same as big BASS or FLW tournaments? Travel, lodging, entry, payout… So much advertising from companies all over the boats, commercials, etc.. Are you even allowed to discuss this?

  13. Dave

    April 17, 2016 at 3:17 am

    Kevin “puttin it out there”.
    Thanks for answering the… “always wanted to know” questions we all have had on our minds.
    I never did think that all of the Elites had a free ride like most of my buddies do.

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