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Professional Fishing: Luck or Skill

Editor's Note: Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Michigan, one of the most-dominant anglers on the bass-fishing circuit, likes to fish with Strike King lures and particularly Strike King's Wild Thing, a creature bait that he used to win the 2001 BASS Masters Classic in New Orleans, Louisiana. Chosen Angler of the Year on the B.A.S.S. circuit in 1991, 1996 and 1999, VanDam also enjoys spending time with his family and hunting deer. This week, he'll share a few of his most unusual bass-fishing tactics, and he'll answer some of the industry's most-asked questions.

Question: What question would you ask a pro angler if you were an average fisherman?

VanDam: This is a good question for me because I really look up to a lot of anglers, like Larry Nixon, Denny Brauer, George Cochran and Rick Clunn. My brother has a big marine dealership and tackle store, and before I began fishing professionally, we'd bring these guys in for promotions. I got to ask them some questions before I became a pro.

One of the questions I wanted to know the answer to in the beginning was how much money was required to get out and follow the tournament trail. Many young fishermen ask me that now. Obviously the cost varies. At that time, I was trying to get out on the tour for a full year. I had about $20,000 in the bank, and I wanted to know if I could make it for a full year. Back then that was plenty of money. Nowadays, that amount is probably not enough.

Somebody just starting out in this business may want to participate in the Bassmasters open events, which includes only four events each year. So, participating in those events costs a little bit less. Entry fees are $600. An angler can practice and fish these events and not spend a whole lot of money. You possibly can get away with spending $1,000 to $1,500 per event. However, if you get out on the tour and fish for a season, then you're looking at a whole new ballgame. The entire season may set you back about $30,000, not including your truck, boat and insurance. The investment is large, and that's why breaking into professional fishing is difficult, especially for young guys who already have families and may not have other jobs or sponsors.

Question: What percent of people who try to break into professional fishing actually make it?

VanDam: Probably 1 percent make it. Few anglers have much staying power. They may participate in events for a couple of years and then disappear. So maybe 10 percent of those who try to become pros make it for at least a little while. I don't know. The percentage is not a lot. Staying in the game is tough.

Question: What questions do people ask you most often?

VanDam: I'm really known as a spinner-bait fisherman. So people ask a lot of questions about fishing spinner baits or why spinner baits are my favorite lures. I like to use spinner baits because they're so efficient. I can cover a lot of different depth zones, water clarity and types of cover. Plus, spinner baits are great lures for locating fish and covering a lot of water. I often use spinner baits to find a fishing spot. Maybe I'll catch a couple of fish or get a couple of bites in one area. And then I may use a worm, a jig or a jerkbait.

Question: What else do people ask you?

VanDam: A question I get asked a lot is just how competitive the fishing is on the tour. People always ask, "How good are those guys?" I wondered the same thing at one time. I fished pretty well in local and regional tournaments around my home, and I wanted to see just how good Larry Nixon, Rick Clunn and Denny Brauer were. What's amazing is the difference in the competition today from when I started - even from a couple of years ago. The learning curve is pretty steep now, and the competition is very tough. To win a Bassmasters tournament is really saying something. You have to have everything go right, and you really need to be on your game. I've had only seven wins in my 12-year career. Denny Brauer has had 12 or 14 wins - or something like that. Clunn is up there pretty high as well, but that's over a more than 20-year career.

Question: How much of winning is luck, and how much is skill?

VanDam: I don't believe in luck at all, so I think that's a very small factor. I try to eliminate all the variables I can control - whether that's equipment-related, lure-related or whatever. Anything that I can control, I do. The things I can't control, I try not to worry about. I just don't like the word luck. I call it good fortune or bad fortune. Luck may play a factor in getting a bite, setting the hook and reeling the fish to the boat. But if the bass is a good one, and it gets free from the hook in mid air, good fortune is when the fish bounces back and stays in the boat. Bad fortune is when the fish bounces off the side and back into the lake.