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How to Become A Tournament Fisherman

Mark DavisEditor's Note: Mark Davis, 38, of Mount Ida, Arkansas, who won the BASS Masters Classic in 1995 and the Angler-of-the-Year title in 1995, 1998 and 2001, never has had a career outside the fishing industry. "My dad said I've never had a real job," says Davis, who is known today as one of the top bass fishermen in the nation and ranked 3rd in the world for bass-fishing expertise, according to, which rates anglers according to events won in the past two years with bonus points given to winning the BASS Masters Classic or comparable events.

Question: If you had a young person come up to you and say, "Mr. Davis, I want to grow up and be a tournament bass fisherman just like you," what would you tell that person?

Answer: I believe that anything you plan to do in life requires a plan. I also think you need to have a back-up plan to fall back on if the first scenario doesn't work. First, I'll advise a young person to go to college and get a really good education. While in college, he needs to take some public speaking, marketing and business courses because the real money in tournament bass fishing is not only in your skill of catching bass but also in your ability to sell products for sponsors. If you become a tournament fisherman worthy of sponsorship, you have to remember the manufacturers are sponsoring you to be their spokesman. So, learning to speak before a crowd is critically important.

Mark DavisWhile you're preparing yourself scholastically, you've also got to prepare yourself as a fisherman. There are no shortcuts. You need to put in thousands and thousands of hours of fishing time. Achieving both a college education and a fishing education can be really difficult at a young age. The real key for me was being a guide. Guiding was my only avenue to becoming a professional bass fishermen. In the beginning of tournament bass fishing, all the serious pros were guides. But today, the second generation of professional fishermen aren't guides. They're usually individuals with good educations and often have family money that supports them while they're learning to become a tournament fisherman.

You have to have quite a bit of financial backing to make it as a tournament fisherman. If you have a limited budget, you're at a real disadvantage in a tournament when you're fishing against competitors with an unlimited budget.

Mark DavisProfessional bass fishing is not unlike many other professional sports. Thousands of people want to be professional bass fishermen. But only a very few make it to that level. The college education will be an extremely big benefit if anyone to make a living as a pro angler. If someone doesn't get their dream of professionally fishing for bass, a college education offers a great fallback plan.

But during the winter months, I almost always use a slow retrieve. I may even want to add a little weight to my crankbait to make it suspend. Then when I stop the bait, the lure will sit there for a long time so that the bass can see it and decide to eat it. I may work it really slow through cover.

Question: Do you have a secret to successful crankbait fishing?

Answer: Yes, I do. Don't get comfortable when you're crankbait fishing. Most fishermen will cast their crankbaits out and retrieve them slow or medium-slow. They'll hold their rods in a way that's comfortable, and they'll fish so they're really comfortable. But to consistently catch bass with a crankbait, you need to vary your retrieve, changing the angle of your rod.

When bass want the bait digging in the mud, you'll have to put the tip of the rod down in the water so that the bait will leave a mud trail. At other times, bass want the crank bait to barely hit the bottom, which means you'll have to hold the rod tip up. Try lengthening and shortening your cast. Be conscious of changing the way you're fishing a crankbait until you hit on a way the bass wants to take the bait.

Question: Why do you want to change up your retrieve so much?

Mark DavisAnswer: You have to remember if there's a group of bass sitting on a point, the fish will see dozens of different lures over a weekend. If you come by that point and you work that crankbait the same way other anglers have retrieved theirs, the chances of your catching those bass are very slim.

However, if you're doing something different, something erratic, something everyone else is not doing, you'll greatly enhance your chances of catching a bass. The bass on many waterways are conditioned to lures. Therefore, to be successful, you have to fish different from other anglers. The way you retrieve the crankbait will determine if you get the bite.