Sage Advice on Breaking into Professional Fishing


This is the time of year when anglers attend sport shows and start a new year of fishing. Some even have visions of moving to the “pro” ranks. The following are excerpts and quotes from the book, Get Paid to Fish, which describes how pro angler Tommy Skarlis views what he does.

One chapter begins with a quotation by Albert Einstein: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”

Tommy’s advice follows. And, aspiring pro anglers don’t necessarily like what Tommy Skarlis tells them.

After being in the tournament trenches and on numerous winning platforms for three decades, the walleye and crappie champion said, “This is one of the hardest jobs anybody will ever take.”

Skarlis recalled those early years when he worked sport show weekends for free because he loved being allied with the people.

“I justified it, as do so many willing to do as much as they can to get started. The fine line is being careful what you give away and what you sell. A tremendous number of people want to make a living in the outdoors,” Skarlis says.

His adage remains the same from the day he struck a sponsorship arrangement with his first sponsor, Ranger boats.

“The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

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Simple advice to those just entering the sponsorship arena: focus solely on those paying the bills. If you have one or two sponsors, those are the ones to support completely.

“Build long-term relationships,” he said, adding you need to be prepared to go when they call. Usually in every photo, Tommy’s first two sponsor logos are very visible: Ranger and Berkley.

Concentrating on mutually beneficial relationships and what each partner requires is a big part of being successful.

“Never go into a meeting asking, ‘What are you going to do for Tommy?’ Rather, ask a question that will startle some potential sponsors: ‘What do you need from Tommy?’ or as stated in other chapters of the book ‘What will move the needle?’”

Skarlis works closely with companies he feels offer the right products and the right people.

“I feel I am with the number one or number two company in every product category,” he said. “My promotional partners are the best of the best. I also work with some start-up manufacturers that I feel will be the best of the best, and I go on the ride with them. I love relationships where people I work with have the passion for the outdoors.”

Some of his perspectives about promoting, selling and winning in the fishing world are as follows:

  1. “The most important part of the whole deal is the angler. We’re reaching out and sharing what we’re doing with this key person.”
  2. “I sell fishing excitement. I’m a fishing educator. The majority of people out there want to know what’s in my heart and my head. They want to enjoy it more—sort of a pay-it-forward mentality.”
  3. “When I discover tactics that would continue to blow away tournament fields like I did in the crappie world, I know I have to give it away and tell my secrets.”
  4. “Learn what sponsors need and deliver it. So simple it’s stupid. Deliver what you promise, always.”
  5. “Don’t try to do something you can’t do; know your limitations. If you’re not good in front of a crowd, don’t guarantee a bunch of seminars.”
  6. “Make sure sponsors see and appreciate what you’re doing. Try to do a comprehensive reporting job without it taking you off the water for long periods of time. I hire a company to track and prepare annual reports.”
  7. “Do your best at all times, on the water and off the water.”

  Note: we want to thank Al and Ron Lindner, Jim Kalkofen, and the team at Target Walleye/Ice for this solid fishing tip. You can subscribe to free, twice-a-week emails from Target Walleye, at