Paths to Become a Pro Angler

At some point, every youth, high school, and college angler dreams of becoming a professional angler. Anyone can decide to fish in high school and college if he or she is enrolled and has the minimum GPA requirement to be eligible. If you are a high school student and your school does not have a fishing team, read here for some suggestions on how to start one. Competing in high school tournaments will prepare you for college fishing, and it will also help build your resume if you want to get a fishing scholarship somewhere. Competing in college tournaments will prepare you for competing at the semi-pro and even the pro level if you choose to do that. There are 3 different tournament organizations of professional bass fishing: Bassmaster, Major League Fishing, and the National Professional Fishing League. Bassmaster and Major League Fishing (MLF) have different levels of tournaments that offer paths to become a professional angler, while the National Professional Fishing League (NPFL) is a fairly new professional tournament trail that launched in March of 2021 and has no qualifying trails to compete on the trail. The first few seasons allowed anglers to submit resumes for consideration to compete, and if accepted competitors paid a $31,200 entry fee for six tournaments.

Stepping into Semi-Pro

Obviously, semi-pro level events are not cheap to enter. Sponsors do play a huge role in paying the pro-level anglers’ expenses, but how do you get to that level? Tournament expenses are a big deal along with the tough competition, but high school and college fishing can be the steps to prepare for the competition and compete for a chance to make it to the next level without paying a ton of money in entry fees. There are two paths to making it to the next level through college fishing: Strike King Bassmaster College Series and MLF Abu Garcia College Fishing. The Bassmaster College Series gives anglers a chance to compete for a spot in the legendary Bassmaster Classic. The top 3 anglers from the Bassmaster College Series National Championship along with the Team of the Year compete in a head-to-head bracket style competition. The winner advances to the Bassmaster Classic and has his or her entry fees paid to compete in all the Bassmaster Opens for the following year. As an alternate route, MLF Abu Garcia College Fishing gives college anglers a chance to qualify for the Toyota Series Championship, with the top boater prize being $235,000, including a Phoenix Boat valued at $35,000, and the top co-angler prize being a Phoenix Boat. Both anglers of the top two teams at the College Fishing National Championship receive qualifications for the Toyota Series Championship as boaters, and both anglers of the third-place team receive qualifications as co-anglers. In addition, the highest-finishing member of the winning team from the College Fishing National Championship at the Toyota Series Championship advances to REDCREST.

The Big Leap: Semi-Pro to Pro

There are 3 paths to making it to the professional level as a bass fisherman. It’s not an easy route, but it’s possible. Check out the odds here.

Path 1: Bassmaster

The Bassmaster Elite Series has existed since 2006, and it has been the standard for professional fishing tournaments since then. Only 9 anglers from the Bassmaster Opens advance to the Elite Series each year through what’s called the “Elite Qualifier (EQ)” standings. The EQ format is new for 2023, which requires anglers to compete in all 9 Bassmaster Opens to qualify for the Elite Series. The entry fees are $1800 per tournament for boaters, and $475 for co-anglers. While there is no professional level for co-anglers, fishing in the back of the boat can be a great learning experience for an angler who wants to fish professionally in the future but needs to know more about what it’s like. The competition is fierce in the Bassmaster Opens, and one bad day can ruin your chances of making it to the Elite Series for that year. The top boater in an Open event receives $46,667 based on 200 contenders, and also, if he or she were to enter all tournaments in that division, a qualification in the prestigious Bassmaster Classic.

Path 2: Major League Fishing

A great way for an angler to work his or her way up the ladder is to start out competing in MLF Phoenix Bass Fishing League tournaments. Through this route, an angler can enter a division as a boater or co-angler and fish lakes close to home, qualify for the Regional Championship, qualify for the BFL All-American, then qualify for the Toyota Series Championship. The top boater from the Regional Championship receives $10,000 plus a Phoenix 819 Pro valued at $50,000, and the top co-angler receives a Phoenix 819 Pro. The top six boaters and co-anglers from each Regional Championship advance to the BFL All-American for a chance to win $120,000 for a boater and a Phoenix 819 Pro valued at $50,000 for a co-angler. The top finishing boater and co-angler from each Regional Championship at the BFL All-American qualifies for the Toyota Series Championship for a chance to win $235,000 for a boater and $35,000 for a co-angler.

While the Bassmaster Elite Series and Tackle Warehouse Invitationals (formerly known as FLW Tour) have existed for years, the Bass Pro Tour is currently in its fifth season. To qualify for the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, an angler must place in the top 5 in his or her division standings through the Toyota Series. If an angler is already qualified for the Invitationals, they will keep working down the list until the spots are filled. To qualify for the Bass Pro Tour, an angler must place in the top 10 of the Invitationals Angler of the Year standings.

Path 3: National Professional Fishing League (NPFL)

As mentioned before, this is a fairly new professional tournament trail that is in its third season, and there are no qualifications that are needed to compete in this trail, nor are there any advancement opportunities for higher levels through this trail. So how do you enter? Well, it was a first-come first-serve basis when they started accepting applications for 2021 and it costs $31,200 to enter. The first-place prize money is $100,000 per tournament. Applications must be submitted to be considered for entry.

Semi-Pro Earnings

The difference between semi-pro fishing versus other sports is there is no guarantee that someone can make money in fishing tournaments, while most other sports are salary-based. Entry fees are close to $2,000 for a semi-pro level fishing tournament, and an angler must place well to earn his entry fee back. Below are the top 10 earnings from the 2022 Bassmaster Opens and the 2022 Major League Fishing Toyota Series, both considered semi-professional trails. Relating these earnings to a sport like Minor League Baseball, they look very similar. Minor League Baseball salaries can range anywhere from $19,910 to $187,200.

Bassmaster Opens Angler Earnings 2022

Keith Poche: $97,152

Kenta Kimura: $96,803

Cooper Gallant: $82,799

Tristan McCormick: $60,237

Brandon Lester: $56,217

JT Thompkins: $55,270

Lee Livesay: $52,500

Casey Smith: $52,300

Keith Combs: $47,317

David Gaston: $46,881

Toyota Series Angler Earnings 2022

Kyle Hall: $267,925

Jeff Reynolds: $94,130

Bryan Labelle: $87,000

Kent Ware: $82,200

Jonathan Semento: $80,500

Jack Daniel Williams: $76,953

Hayden Heck: $75,300

Robert Branagh: $68,530

Marshall Robinson: $67,850

Matt Stanley: $66,850