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How Mark Davis Became a Professional Angler

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 www.BassFan.com, 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: Mark, how did you get started fishing.

Answer: When I was a youngster, my dad had a boat on the lake. He also had a motorcycle that I could ride back-and-forth to the lake. So, as soon as I was big enough to ride the motorcycle, I went fishing almost every day. I'd even play hooky from school and go fishing.

I had a friend who was a guide, and he told me one time, "Mark, why don't you start guiding fishermen?" I really didn't have any confidence in my ability to guide people to fish but this gentleman just told me, "Mark, all you've got to do is to take folks fishing, let them catch most of the fish and when they get through fishing, clean the fish for them, and then send them on your way. You need to take care of the folks, make sure they have a good time and be safe with them."

Well, a few days later, he gave me my first guide trip. I took some folks crappie fishing for four hours, and we caught 24 crappie. At the end of the trip I got two, $20 bills. Remember, I was 15-years old, and $40 was more than most men made working all day long at that time. I said to myself, "This fishing for money is the life for me."

Mark DavisI guided all the way through high school. Then my dad had a heart attack at the end of my senior year, and I put off plans for college for a year. Guiding fishermen proved to be so profitable for me that I never went to college. Next I started fishing tournaments every time I could get enough money to enter one. I became a professional angler when I was 21, and I've been fishing for a living ever since.

Question: What kind of money were you making while guiding when you were a teenager?

Answer: When I got out of high school and started guiding fulltime, I was making $20,000 a year, which was really big money 20-years ago. I was living at home and didn't have any expenses. Of course I was guiding 200 days of the year.

Question: What was your big break in fishing?

Answer: When I was 31 in 1995, I won the BASS Masters Classic as well as the B.A.S.S. Angler-of-the-Year title. That was the year that I could finally quit guiding and strictly fish competitively and work for my sponsors. I haven't guided since 1995.

Question: What were you doing to become Angler of the Year and win the BASS Masters Classic?

Answer: Three ingredients made the difference in my fishing performance that year. I lost 100 pounds of weight and got myself in good physical shape, which enabled me to fish better and longer. The second thing I did was put tournament fishing first and guiding second. Before 1995, I'd book a lot of guide trips around my tournaments. I didn't pre-fish any tournament. As soon as a tournament was over, I'd come back home and start guiding. I wasn't putting enough time in my tournament fishing to be successful.

Mark DavisBut in 1995, I made tournament fishing the foremost thing in my business. I pre-fished tournaments and got an intimate knowledge of each body of water I was competing on before the tournament. The third thing I did was I turned my career over to the Lord. I'm convinced that those three things enabled me to have the kind of career I did in 1995. I continue to follow those three aspects of my life today.

Question: In 2001 you won B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year again. How?

Answer: I won that title in 1995 and 1998. In 1998, the tournament fishermen had to fish a lot of different types of water. Because my strong suit is versatility, I believe I was able to adapt to change better and faster than some of the other anglers. I don't really care how I catch a bass. I don't consider myself a flipper and a pitcher, a crankbait specialist, a spinner bait fisherman or a worm expert. I'll just do whatever I have to do to catch a bass.

In 2001, I caught the biggest string of bass in my career, which was also the second biggest stringer of bass ever caught in a B.A.S.S. tournament. Those five fish weighed a total of 41 pounds. I caught those fish on Lake Toho in Florida on a Strike King tube bait while sight fishing. I can remember a time in my fishing career when I didn't sight fish. I told myself that I couldn't see well enough to sight fish for bass and that I really didn't like to sight fish. But I've changed my philosophy to do whatever I have to do to catch bass.

Mark DavisTen years ago, I would've said "I don't like sight fishing, so I'm not going to do it." I've got a different attitude towards sight fishing today. I believe to be a successful tournament fisherman, I have to be versatile and try to learn every technique that will catch a bass. I think versatility and being able to adapt to fishing conditions easily and quickly is what has allowed me to win the Angler-of-the-Year title in 2001.

Question: How many times have you won the Angler-of-the-Year title?

Answer: I've won the B.A.S.S. Angler-of-the-Year title three times -- 1995, 1998 and 2001. Bill Dance has won it three times like I have, and Roland Martin has won it nine times.


Davis' Mental Preparation for a Tournament

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 www.BassFan.com, 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: How do you mentally prepare for a major fishing tournament?

Answer: I believe that mental preparation goes hand-in-hand with physical preparation. When I pre-fish and get the basic knowledge of where and how I'll fish in a tournament, this helps me become more confident that I can win. I check all my equipment and make sure every piece is in tiptop shape. Knowing that equipment will perform the way it should when I need it to also adds to my confidence level. I make sure all my tackle is organized and that my boat is running at peak performance.

Mark DavisWhen I know I've done everything I need to do to prepare for a tournament, then I can fish that tournament with a tremendous amount of confidence. Preparing my equipment helps me focus better on the tournament I'm about to fish. Successful tournament bass fishing involves the ability to make the right decisions at the right time during a week of fishing. If you don't have to be concerned about your equipment, you can strictly focus on your decision-making process.

Question: How do you decide when to go or stay while fishing a certain area?

Answer: You always have the ability to come back to a region that has produced bass but isn't producing fish now. Timing is the real key to success in tournament bass fishing. If you're fishing a section of water where you know bass are but those bass aren't biting, then leave that area. You may want to come back to it three more times during the day.

Mark DavisGenerally I'll fish an area about an hour. If I don't catch a bass, I'll leave that place but may return to it three or four more times to see if the bass are feeding aggressively. Many times, if you fish a place three or four times during a day, you'll discover that the bass bite best perhaps between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. You can go to that spot over the next few days if weather conditions don't change and catch bass in that spot during that time period.


Davis' Deep-Water Tactics

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 www.BassFan.com, 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: You said one of your strengths is deep-water bass fishing. What do you mean by deep-water fishing, and how do you do it?

Answer: In most parts of the country, deep-water fishing for bass involves trying to catch bass in water that is 15 feet or deeper. In some areas, deep-water fishing may be deeper than 30 feet.

I think learning to fish deep water and then learning to fish shallow water is easier. If you understand the bass' habits and how the fish relate to structure in deep water, then taking what you've learned when fishing in deep water and fishing shallow is easier than learning to fish shallow water and then having to learn to fish deep water. Shallow-water fishermen often feel lost when they can't see the bank or the structure they're trying to fish around.

Question: Which fish are the easiest to find -- shallow or deep-water bass?

Answer: The deep-water bass are more difficult to locate because you have to rely more on your electronics and your fish-finding abilities. When you're fishing shallow, many times you can see where you should be fishing, for example the cover, the shade, the current, the baitfish and often the bass you're hoping to catch. But when you're fishing deep, you can't see any of these features.

The real key to finding fish deep is your ability to cover water efficiently. A depth finder won't locate the bass for you, although it will help you find the fish, the structure and the cover. But ultimately you have to find those fish with a rod and reel.

BassQuestion: What are your favorite deep-water bass lures?

Answer: If I'm fishing down to about 18 feet or less, I'll be fishing a crankbait. If I only can choose one crankbait, I'll use a Strike King Series 5 crankbait. By changing my line size and the length of my cast, I can fish this bait with great success from 5 feet to 12 feet. That depth encompasses a lot of bass fishing.

My favorite color is watermelon shad, a pearl-colored lure with a light green lime back. Because of its back, this lure is visible in stained water, and the Series 5 crankbait makes this a good clear-water bait since it has white pearl belly.

Question: How are you fishing the Series 5 in deep water?

Answer: There are several very important ingredients to fishing a crankbait successfully. The further you can cast a crankbait, the lighter the line you use, and the deeper you hold your rod in the water, the deeper the crankbait will dive.You have to have the right equipment.

I've found the most-effective way to fish a crankbait is on some kind of breakline, either an underwater creek channel, an underwater grass line, an underwater stump row or some other type of break-line. The real secret to deep-water fishing for bass is to not catch one bass here and one bass there. Instead attempt to discover a school of bass. You want to catch your limit of bass out of one spot. If you're fishing in a tournament, you hope to catch your limit in that spot every day for three days.

Question: What type of retrieve will you use?

Mark DavisAnswer: During the summer months, I'm going to use a fast retrieve. When the surface temperature is 80 degrees or higher, the bass' body metabolism is high, and the bass want to chase a fast-moving bait. You use a faster retrieve to get a reaction strike.

However, you need to remember that bass don't read the same magazine articles and books we read. Some days a slow retrieve is what you need for the bass to bite -- even in hot weather.

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.


Davis' Toughest Method of Fishing

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 www.BassFan.com, 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: You said one of your strengths is deep-water bass fishing. What do you mean by deep-water fishing, and how do you do it?

Answer: In most parts of the country, deep-water fishing for bass involves trying to catch bass in water that is 15 feet or deeper. In some areas, deep-water fishing may be deeper than 30 feet.

I think learning to fish deep water and then learning to fish shallow water is easier. If you understand the bass' habits and how the fish relate to structure in deep water, then taking what you've learned when fishing in deep water and fishing shallow is easier than learning to fish shallow water and then having to learn to fish deep water. Shallow-water fishermen often feel lost when they can't see the bank or the structure they're trying to fish around.

Question: Which fish are the easiest to find -- shallow or deep-water bass?

Answer: The deep-water bass are more difficult to locate because you have to rely more on your electronics and your fish-finding abilities. When you're fishing shallow, many times you can see where you should be fishing, for example the cover, the shade, the current, the baitfish and often the bass you're hoping to catch. But when you're fishing deep, you can't see any of these features.

Mark DavisThe real key to finding fish deep is your ability to cover water efficiently. A depth finder won't locate the bass for you, although it will help you find the fish, the structure and the cover. But ultimately you have to find those fish with a rod and reel.

Question: What are your favorite deep-water bass lures?

Answer: If I'm fishing down to about 18 feet or less, I'll be fishing a crankbait. If I only can choose one crankbait, I'll use a Strike King Series 5 crankbait. By changing my line size and the length of my cast, I can fish this bait with great success from 5 feet to 12 feet. That depth encompasses a lot of bass fishing.

My favorite color is watermelon shad, a pearl-colored lure with a light green lime back. Because of its back, this lure is visible in stained water, and the Series 5 crankbait makes this a good clear-water bait since it has white pearl belly.

Question: How are you fishing the Series 5 in deep water?

Answer: There are several very important ingredients to fishing a crankbait successfully. The further you can cast a crankbait, the lighter the line you use, and the deeper you hold your rod in the water, the deeper the crankbait will dive.You have to have the right equipment.

I've found the most-effective way to fish a crankbait is on some kind of breakline, either an underwater creek channel, an underwater grass line, an underwater stump row or some other type of break-line. The real secret to deep-water fishing for bass is to not catch one bass here and one bass there. Instead attempt to discover a school of bass. You want to catch your limit of bass out of one spot. If you're fishing in a tournament, you hope to catch your limit in that spot every day for three days.

Mark DavisQuestion: What type of retrieve will you use?

Answer: During the summer months, I'm going to use a fast retrieve. When the surface temperature is 80 degrees or higher, the bass' body metabolism is high, and the bass want to chase a fast-moving bait. You use a faster retrieve to get a reaction strike.

However, you need to remember that bass don't read the same magazine articles and books we read. Some days a slow retrieve is what you need for the bass to bite -- even in hot weather.


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 www.BassFan.com, 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.