Story & photos by Tim Huffman
This issue discusses the “professional” title, winning a classic and winning Angler Team of the Year. Our series experts include Darrell VanVactor, General Manager of Crappie USA; Mike Vallentine, President and Owner of Crappie Masters; Matt Morgan, Co-Owner of the American Crappie Trail; and tournament fishermen.
Who is a pro fisherman?
Few, if any, fishermen make a living fishing tournaments, so what is a pro? A full-time guide definitely qualifies. A fisherman who makes his living fishing tournaments, but I don’t know of an angler doing that in crappie fishing. So what about the term “pro fishermen” that is toss around a lot? Fishermen give their ideas.
Jim Westerberg, Arkansas, says, “I believe if you have sponsorship it shows you obviously have experience, have contact with the public promoting your sponsors and are at some level a pro.”
Todd Huckabee, a full-time guide in Oklahoma says, “I’m a pro. No income except from crappie fishing.”
Kevin Rogers from Missouri, 2016 Angler Team of the Year, and sponsored by Missouri Soybeans, says, “I’ve got a full-time job. I fish for a hobby so I am not a professional.”
Jonathan Sheridan, Ky Lake, says, “It can be somebody who does respectable in the sport and goes out of their way to help others. A true pro is a sportsman and respectful of the sport.”
Bart Gillon, Tennessee, tournament fishermen, owner of Rod Safe, says, “I believe it is a person who has established himself either on a local or national level and is a good fisherman. It’s a person someone can go to and ask for advice. You don’t have to be in a wrapped boat, sponsored or on a tournament trail because it’s deeper than that.”
From the previous quotes, there is no one clear-cut definition of a crappie pro.
Winning the Classic
VanVactor says if a winning team will take advantage of the opportunity they can help support their fishing for many years to come. The key is for them to align with products they are comfortable with using and communicate to those sponsors how the team can help them sell more products. Winning a classic opens doors for a team to advance themselves, fish more and different places and have support doing it.
Vallentine says, “Winning a National Championship means a lot because it means the team beat the largest and best field of fishermen gathered at one lake, at one time, fishing one tournament. The winner is the champ of the biggest tournament of the year.”
Morgan says, “I’ve won two classics. These tournaments are ones that everyone wants to win because it’s against the best fishermen in the country. There are many good fishermen who have not won a classic.”
Charlie Bunting has won both Crappie USA and Crappie Masters Classic Championships. He says, “Winning the classic is the ultimate of titles. It’s like the championship race in auto racing. Like the SuperBowl in football. You have to beat the best of the best so to win a classic is special. The second I walked off stage after the first classic win I was asked if I would be pro staff for a company. So winning gets your foot in the door.
“It’s also important that fishermen know that sponsorships help you fish more but they are jobs. For everything I get from a sponsor I have to give them that much or more back in time and sales. Done correctly, a fisherman receives benefits and the company sells products.”
Bunting says, “The Angler of the Year is another milestone that in some ways is harder to win than a classic. You have to fish multiple lakes and do consistently well.”
Winning Angler Team of the Year
Crappie USA, Darrell VanVactor “This means as much or more to many fishermen because it means that the team was the most consistent team on multiple lakes fishing multiple techniques. No luck involved with AOY like there can be by winning one tournament. Therefore, it is a big honor. A team can use that to help themselves with sponsors. We’ve tried to give the fishermen who have the financial ability and time to fish more events and an award to recognize them for being successful. Our points are changing to bigger and better in 2017. Everyone who fishes will be eligible. Our points system will not kick someone out of the running if they have a bad tournament.”
Vallentine has made it easy to see Crappie Master’s view of the importance of AOY. The 2017 winner will receive $25,000 cash plus a set of Power Poles. The tops six teams will share $65,000 in cash. These monies have never been seen in crappie points systems.
“Some view Angler Team of the Year as being more important than winning the national championship tournament,” says Vallentine. “There seems to be emphasis on winning the tournament, but winning the AOY shows fishermen have fished a variety of techniques on a variety of lakes. It’s a good measure of who the best fishermen in the country are due to their consistency that takes most of the luck factor out of the equation.”
Morgan says, “Winning the classic means a fisherman has prepared but he also had a lot of luck. AOY is different. It removes most of the luck factor and is also something many serious fishermen want to win. Our ACT AOY will receive a new Ranger boat. Both the AOY and Classic champs can get sponsors if they want to work toward that but it’s not for everyone.”