Case in point: Kim Bain.
Bain, 23, became the first female to ever qualify for a post-season BASS championship when she qualified for the recent CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship presented by Busch Beer. But the distinction doesn't end there.
From her hometown of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Bain traveled halfway around the world to compete in the three Western Open events. And she performed well enough to finish 13th in the non-boater division and qualify for the Open. Her finishes included 21st on the Columbia River, 29th at Clear Lake and 60th at Lake Havasu.
Bain finished 23rd among the 80 amateurs at the Open Championship on Toledo Bend Reservoir.
"The fishing was great," Bain said, "and then there was the esoteric stuff, like standing in queue to weigh in at the Open Championship and seeing Gary Klein and others in the line with you," she said. "It was a toss-up whether to hold onto the fish or grab my autograph book. Then after I weighed in there would be young girls with their Mums and they'd be asking me to sign their hats and books.
"I fished the first day of (practice) at the Championship with Stacey King and his wife Peggy. These were the guys I'd watched on TV or seen in action when I covered the Classic for an Aussie magazine a few years ago. As I said, the fishing was great, but the people are what really make the tour a great life experience.
"Another highlight was not knowing my way around at Toledo Bend; I couldn't find a place to eat as I was without a car and all of the restaurants within walking distance were closed. I was starving, when Stacey and Peggy rolled up. Peggy had thought ahead and had prepared a sandwich for me. How awesome!"
Bain said her Open experience was an important step in her education as an angler.
"I have fished and hunted since before I could walk," she said. "As the story goes, Mum used to carry me in a backpack when she went hunting. Girls in fishing and hunting? People ask me why and I can only shrug my shoulders. I never knew any different.
"At times in school it was funny being the only kid in class who could put five shots into a 1-inch group offhand at 25 paces with either rod or rifle. I wrote my first national article about hunting when I was 14 and filmed my first national TV fishing segment when I was still in high school.… After high school I went straight to work in the outdoor media."
Bain's fishing credentials include twice being named the Australian Female Bass Angler of the Year, as well as winning the junior championship in the Flathead Classic (Australia's largest sportfishing event) She claims more than "100 fishing titles, line class records and state championships in Australia covering species as diverse as sharks, billfish, tuna, bass, catfish and trout on fly.
"We don't have largemouth or smallmouth in Australia so it is quite a challenge to adapt to a new species with different feeding patterns and behavior. In Australia, we do have the Australian Bass, which looks like a bronze version of a white bass. It grows to 10 pounds and is commonly caught between 4 and 6 pounds. We also have the barramundi, which has a mouth like a largemouth, is responsive to largemouth tactics, is silver in coloration and jumps acrobatically when hooked. The only problem with the barra is that they don't (fit in a) livewell that well for tournaments because they grow to 80-pound-plus and 60 inches long.
"I'm an outdoors/fishing writer and TV fishing and (seminar) presenter in Australia, so in 2000 I visited the USA to learn more about the craft of fishing plus the associated techniques and technologies. For example, in 2000 we didn't even have soft plastics in Australia…we didn't pitch, we didn't flip; we didn't shake or drop shot or even finesse.
"I visited America a few more times and the people in the bass scene were just so wonderful that I fell in love with the place. Along the way I'd met and fished with some great people like Bob Adkinson from Washington, Mike O'Shea and Tim Horton. So in 2003 with the new BASS (pro-am) format, and bucketfuls of encouragement from the team at Ranger Boats, I decided to try the circuit.
"It had taken me three years of saving to scrape together enough cash to fund the tour, so it really was a big risk. I flew twice to the USA from Australia to cover the spread of events on the tour — just the flights cost thousands of dollars). If it wasn't for the wonderful hospitality shown to me by the competitors on the circuit it would have not been possible. Every time I needed to get to an event or (practice), there were competitors happy to help out."
CAREER INVESTMENT. Make no mistake, professional fishing is an expensive profession. Alabama pro Tim Horton recalls that his entry fees and expenses during his rookie year on the CITGO Bassmaster Tour totaled $40,000, while his income from sponsors was a mere $5,000.
"Fortunately, I won some money that year and was able to cover those expenses," Horton said. That's an understatement. Horton won the season- opener on the Potomac River and went on to dominate the 2000 BASS Angler of the Year race like no pro before him.
DID YOU KNOW? Denny Brauer is the only pro to win an amazing four tournaments in a calendar year (1998): Georgia's Russell Lake, April; North Carolina's Trent River, April; the Bassmasters Classic, August; and Maryland's Potomac River, August.
PRO BIRTHDAYS. Kim Stricker of Michigan will celebrate his 52 birthday on Dec. 27th. Former Classic champion David Fritts (47) and Arkansas' Mike McClelland share (36) Dec. 29th.
IF I HADN'T BECOME A BASS PRO… Two-time BASS Angler of the Year Davy Hite would likely still be in the South Carolina National Guard.
THEY SAID IT. "There are less and less secret areas these days. It used to be you could run off and hide some place. You can't run off and hide today." Four-time Classic champion Rick Clunn on the competitiveness of today's Bassmaster Tournament Trail.