May 1, 2001 by Rob Newell
Hint: It's more than just good fishing skills
In the bass-fishing industry it is assumed that the words "professional bass angler" refer to one who derives his livelihood from bass fishing. But for Sammy Lee, the label carries a connotation that runs much deeper than catching fish and cashing checks.
Lee has been involved in the sport of tournament bass fishing, in one capacity or another, for 25 years. In fact, Lee himself was a professional bass angler at one time. From there, Lee moved into the field of outdoor communications, hosting his nationally syndicated radio show, Tight Lines with Sammy Lee. For the last eight years Lee has also been the National Promotions Director for Ranger Boats.
Throughout his tenure in the tournament bass fishing arena, Lee has come to fully understand what "true professionalism" is all about. It is a topic that he does not take lightly.
Recently, Lee took some time to divulge his thoughts about the true meaning of professionalism for The Bottom Line. Although he stresses that his personal thoughts on "professionalism" are merely opinions and are not a set of stringent rules carved in stone, his words of wisdom are important for any angler who is interested in a professional bass fishing career.
Surprisingly, Lee rarely refers to the actual mechanics of bass fishing when speaking about the role of a professional bass angler. For Lee, there is much to being a professional angler than simply having good fishing skills.
"Positive attitude, credibility, commitment, respect and integrity are what make up a professional angler," says Lee fervently.
A positive attitude goes a long way toward demonstrating a professional attitude. Lee says that the acid test for a person's attitude is how they react after a difficult day on the water. An angler who can hold his head high and show emotional maturity after a bad day - or, better yet, a bad week - is well on his or her way to being a professional.
"There is an old saying in sports that says, `Winners never quit and quitters never win.' Nothing could be truer than in professional bass fishing," says Lee. "There are going to be a lot of tough days on the water, but the true character of a person will show through when they do not do well. How a person handles himself after a tough day on the water says a lot more to me than how a person acts after a great day on the water."
Lee also offers indispensable advice about the role of a professional angler in a promotional capacity. Once again, he finds that many anglers remain too focused on fishing and, as a result, are not as attentive to their role as a promotional tool.
"Most fishermen think that their value in a sponsorship capacity lies only in the ability to catch fish. That is not where the value in a promotional person lies," reveals Lee. "Their value lies in the angler's credibility - the ability to convince the public that the product he is using is good enough so that the consumer will buy it."
Lee finds an angler's credibility to be more valuable than his fishing ability. He cautions anglers not to jump around from sponsor to sponsor because such activity only diffuses an angler's credibility in the eyes of the public.
"An angler's level of commitment is a reflection of his love for the sport," says Lee. A positive sign of commitment to Lee is an angler who finishes an entire fishing season despite falling behind in the points early in the year, as opposed to an angler who drops out after only one or two bad tournaments.
Another sign of commitment for Lee is an angler who stays with the same sponsors for long periods of time.
"An angler who stays with the same company for many years obviously has tremendous belief in the product. That commitment builds the angler's credibility."
Lee suggests that anglers in the professional bass fishing business would do themselves a favor by being more respectful of those who came before them.
"We should all be aware of the forefathers who came before us and made this industry possible. There were many sacrifices made in the early days of this sport. The hard times that they endured have paved the way for the good times we enjoy today. It is just a matter of respect for the sport and fellow man."
Integrity is a word that Lee often uses to describe the quality of an individual found in a professional. Integrity is where moral character and a sound conscience come together to define an individual.
When it comes to integrity, Lee sums up by saying, "There is more to being a professional angler than just catching fish. Being a professional angler means you sign the autographs when you are tired and want to go home. It means you answer the questions when you would rather leave the stage. It means you stay on the last day of a tournament even when you have not done well. That is the mark of a professional."
Rob Newell is a freelance outdoor writer from Tallahassee, Fla. He has been actively involved in tournament bass fishing and the professional bass fishing industry, both as participant and a writer, for more than 10 years. He currently fishes as a co-angler on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour and contributes to OperationBass.com, Bass Fishing and other fishing publications.