KISSIMMEE, Fla. - A threeday fishing trip usually represents a vacation. An opportunity to spend time outdoors. An excuse to get away from work. For Luke Clausen, it represented $500,000.
On Sunday, Clausen wrapped up the Citgo Bassmaster Classic, the most prestigious tournament in bass fishing. Clausen’s threeday total of 15 fish weighing 56 pounds, 2 ounces broke the record for the heaviest Classic haul. Clausen, 27, also won $500,000 in August 2004 at the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship. One million dollars in 18 months for a few days fishing. Not bad. But while bass fishing can be a lucrative profession for the world’s best and most popular anglers, it can be a tough way of life for other pros. Sponsors are on the mind of Joe Conway, a Colorado Springs resident who was one of six “amateurs” to reach the Classic. Conway, who finished 45th, has no doubt he has the talent to “fish for a living.” Financial backing is a different story. “It’s pretty brutal out here,” said Marty Stone, who finished 26th and earned $10,000. “Look at our entry fees now. If you’re forking all that out of your pocket, that’s pretty tough.” Stone is referring to the $5,000 required to enter each of the 11 tournaments on the BASS Elite Circuit. (BASS stands for Bass Anglers Sportsman Society.) That’s $55,000 a year. And, like golfers on the PGA Tour, professional anglers have to pay their way to tournaments and cover their expenses — including gas for practice rounds. “Plus you got your mortgage payment, plus you got your car payment, plus you got the rest of your bills,” added Ishama Monroe, who finished 15th. “It adds up. For me, I’ve got to justify $15,000 a month for the next five months.” Suddenly, the record $1.2 million purse for this year’s Classic doesn’t seem as huge. That’s why the shirts anglers wear in competition look like NASCAR jerseys. Stone, who had just one sponsor when he started fishing professionally in 1997, now has 13. “Unless you have a lot of money in the bank, you need sponsors,” Monroe said. Just winning sometimes isn’t enough to get them. That might explain why two-time Classic winner Kevin VanDam, 38, spent time after each day of this year’s tournament signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans. Or why Skeet Reese, 36, dyes his hair platinum blond. Or why Mike Iaconelli, 33, fishes like John McEnroe played tennis — throwing fits when he’s angry and, after catching fish, engaging in breakdancing celebrations that would make Terrell Owens blush. Iaconelli was named the sixth-most-hated person in sports by GQ Magazine. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “The money’s getting bigger and the personalities are developing, and these personalities are realizing there’s a lot of money at stake,” said Byron Velvick, a pro angler who also works as a commentator for ESPN. “You’ve got to keep sponsors happy. You’ve got to fight for those bucks.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0365 or firstname.lastname@example.org