I should start by saying that I am not a professional kayak angler - at least by my definition. I am a very avid kayak fisherman and outdoorsman as well as pro-staffer and (part time) guide. However, I make a living doing something completely different. But would I love to be a full time outdoorsman? Would I trade 6 years of grad school and two graduate degrees for the right job in the outdoor industry? You bet I would!
So, what are some things I do to help market myself? The first thing is to make sure you can back it up. You need to put in the time and do your homework on the water before you charge into things. Because no matter how things go for you in tournaments or with other activities, if you can catch 'em then you will have a commodity that folks in the industry look for and will never let you down. A big part of this is being diverse and relying on your intuition. That means taking the time to learn and push yourself. For instance, I was on the river Saturday scouting a new piece of water. The bite was good and in seemingly no time I had landed about 15 bass on a Texas rigged Deep Creek Luresworm. However, I am fairly comfortable fishing a Texas-rig, so I switched to a flipping set-up with a DC Floating Flip Craw. Flipping is one of those techniques that can catch fish and catch them quick if you know what you are doing. At one point in my life, I thought I was decent at flipping, but the more I learned about the technique, the more I learned how wrong I was. I am still not terribly good at flipping, but I am improving and that is all I can ask of myself. I only landed about 7 more bass, but I caught them all standing and flipping in my Malibu Stealth 12. The second part of the above statement - intuition - is one of the most important things a fisherman can have, in my opinion. If you can learn to trust your gut based on time and practice, you will be a hard person to beat come tournament day. And if you can couple that with confidence...watch out!
Fish on - while standing and pitching/flipping to holes in grass mats in FL
So, at this point you can fish and you are involved in the local tournament scene, now it is time to take the next step. It is time to branch out to the interweb. Find some websites that have active forums and get involved. My favorites are NCangler.com and RiverBassin.com. The communities there are great and you can learn a lot by reading and sharing. However, even in the best communities, there can be some pitfalls. I quickly found out that if you give too much information in your fishing reports, then people get mad that you are "giving away their "secret" spots"...ya know, the spots you found on your own by trial and error. Of course, if you give too little information, you run the risk of everyone thinking you a braggart. So, finding the best balance for your posts is important. Also, forums are a prime example of the phrase, "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Don't take the time to tell the guy holding a 3 pounder and claiming it is a 6 pounder that he is wrong, just let it go. Also, don't let your ego get in the way. There will always be "that guy". It might be the guy who catches an 8 lber each week in his private farm pond and needs to brag about it, the guy who talks smack endlessly before each tournament, or the guy who is just flat-out rude. Turn the other cheek and head to another website...preferably this one.
Suddenly you are the talk of the message boards - it is time to launch into the world of social media. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube...everyone and their brother has an account. So take the time to make friends with other folks in the industry. Always be open to help others or give positive advice. Be ready to help folks for little (if anything) in return. The outdoor community is a tight knit group, and although it has its cliques, overall it is an incredibly friendly and helpful bunch. Then start producing good content. Take good pictures, make high quality movies, and go the extra mile to set yourself apart. Do not post 50 pictures of yourself holding 10 inch bass. Do not only take photos of fish on a measuring board. Do not put up movies that you threw together in 3 minutes. Do not use profanity or post inappropriate content. Get your face in the shots, talk to the camera, get some action shots, get some scenery, and take the time to make it all look good. During my recent BASS Slam trip, the hardest part was to put down the rod and film. But good film and photos are important in todays world of technology and media, so it is a must...do it.
My pictures aren't National Geographic material, but I have learned that taking good ones is a must!
The next step, which is one I took, is to start your own website or blog. Blogs, again, can be a delicate balance. Blog purists think them totally organic, so they should have no advertisements, logos, etc. Most realists understand that blogs have a ton of potential and should be utilized. I started my blog to share my experiences and knowledge. It was also a welcome break from the math and science that plagued my everyday life. Now, it still has the same roots that it started with, but has grown into a place I can share reviews and highlight some of my sponsors and affiliates. In my experience, having a blog has been nothing but a good thing. You will note that this blog does not share my thoughts on politics, religion, gay rights, or any other taboo subjects. For those that do, I have no issue with that. But a professional (or pseudo-professional website) should be just that. And of course, you need to keep it updated. Trust me, it isn't always easy to sit down and blog each week. I try to shoot for 2 posts a week. Sometimes that doesn't happen and other times it does, but one post a month doesn't cut it.
If you get to this point, the key is to keep working hard and creating new challenges for yourself. For me, it was taking on the BASS Slam this year. It is also to become more involved in charity and community service work. If you keep challenging yourself and pushing yourself, good things will happen. But the bottom line for me is to always have fun on the water and enjoy your time outdoors with family and friends.
Having fun spending time outdoors with friends and family is what it is all about.
And last, but not least, be prepared to put a target on your back. Because the industry is growing so fast, everyone wants a piece of the pie. As I said before, the yak fishing community is a fantastic group of folks, but there will be people who will take issue with things you say or do. I know there are people here in NC who dislike the fact that I went to Duke and because of that go out of there way to throw rude comments my way. Now, I love some good natured ribbing about the rivalry, but there is always a line. Another aspect is being a younger guy in the industry. Heck, some pro-staff guys out there are barely 20. At times I see them say and do things that I know they will regret one day, just as I did. Personally, I have had some serious road bumps and ups and downs along my path, but I have learned an immense amount from my mistakes and really tried to use them to grow as a person and angler. When things got tough, there were guys who there for me, supported me, and helped me through things. As a younger guy, these mentors were really important for me. You really can't get anywhere, not just in this industry, but in life, without the proper support....and not everyone out there has your best interests in mind.
So being accessible has its pros and cons, but overall it is by far a good thing. Getting comments on my blogs or videos, emails, or private messages can really make my day. I have had some awesome emails from folks over the past year or two, but recently one really stood out. It was in response to an article written about my attempt of the BASS Slam by Bill Howard that ran in the Wilson Times last week. Coincidentally, I met Bill via social media. The email was from a woman named Gail, the mother of David Roberson. Dave grew up in Durham, but the Air Force took him all over the world. In Italy, he fell in love with bass fishing and a passion began. It eventually led him to California where he began targeting giant bass. Naturally, he became addicted to swimsuit fishing and eventually began developing his own baits. After some trial and error, engineering, development, and tweaks, he began producing them as Orso Baits. You can find info about Dave and the baits via a Google search, including videos of the infamous "Dave Cam". Dave suffered a cardiac arrest in 2009 and passed away at the age of 35. It was evident how passionate Dave was about fishing by the way his mother spoke of him. He and I have a lot in common and it really puts things in perspective. Emails like this really motivate and inspire me and I really appreciate Gail taking the time to write.
The "Dave Cam" - chucking swimbaits on Jordan Lake, NC
My fingers are crossed that the rest of the schedule this week stays in tact, but I am not sure if I have enough time to get everything done. If not, I will have something up....I promise. Until tomorrow, tight lines!