Qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series is a dream come true for many bass fishermen. Often the qualification is the easy part when compared to the financial realities of a life on tour as a professional bass angler. The rising costs of expenses, entry fees and the lack of security from a traditional job sometimes prevent anglers from making the jump to the Elites. Every year anglers qualify only to decline the offer and wait for the next time. The rookie class of 2012 is filled with dreamers who are putting everything on the line to focus on Going Elite.
In what could be described as consistent dominance on the western tournament scene, California native Chris Zaldain qualified for four consecutive Forrest Wood Cup events. He made it look easy fishing the waters in his home region and then decided that he wanted to fish the Bassmaster Elite Series. The 27 year old from California qualified in his first try as he easily won the points title in the 2011 Bassmaster Central Opens.
It seems like everything has come easily for Zaldain – until he started his search for sponsors for his rookie campaign as an Elite Series angler. Zaldain says, “I thought it would be a little easier. I have been doing everything I can since I qualified to make it happen.” While he is very grateful for all of the support he has received from his sponsors including Skeeter, Yamaha, PowerPole, Seaguar, Skinny Bear Bass Jigs, Powell Rods, Top Shelf Swimbaits, and Histacklebox.com, he stated that he is “basically sponsoring myself, just trying to survive until the next season.” Zaldain has taken the approach of trying not to worry about money while he is fishing. He realizes he has to pay his dues and work hard in order to stay on the trail for more than just a year.
Zaldain is currently on a leave of absence from his job as a technician for a semi-conductor company. His employer was understanding and has witnessed his advancement in bass fishing and was behind Chris’s decision to make a run at the Elite Series.
Like many other rookies, Zaldain realizes that the media aspect of the fishing industry is just as important as the fishing. He has been really pleased with the amount of exposure he has received so far and wants to continue to get his name out there to show that he is (hopefully) here to stay.
Although only 23, you might mistake Florida’s Kyle Fox for a veteran of the sport. In reality he is, having been fishing the Bassmaster Opens since 2007. Last year he qualified for the Elites via the Northern Opens. Much like many contemporary rookies, Kyle came up through the Junior Bass Fishing ranks and moved on toward the Federation, Opens and now, Elites. After success at every level, he is determined to prove his skills with the best in the world.
While his list of sponsors is among the leaders in the industry, it has not been an easy path to the Elite Series from a financial perspective. Fox stated simply that, “It’s tough in this industry. The Elite Series is a big accomplishment but it’s not like we are NASCAR or NFL players.”
Kyle’s currently sponsored by Skeeter, Yamaha, PowerPole, Culprit, Strike King, Lowrance, Quantum, Costa del Mar, Smith & Wesson and Rick Wilson Painting. His sponsorship deal with Rick Wilson Painting is huge for him and really will allow him to fish the Elite Series without as many worries, focusing on fishing instead of how he is going to pay the next entry fee.
The media side of fishing is something that he has continued to learn as he balances life with the lawn service business he owns and operates. He has made an effort to get increased awareness of who he is as a marketable fisherman. His immediate plan is to continue his business between tournaments as he progresses towards life as a full time professional angler.
Unlike Zaldain and Fox, Ohio’s Fletcher Shryock literally came out of nowhere and zoomed off to the races. The former motocross champion won the 2011 Southern Open on Lake Norman and qualified for the Classic. Due to one poor finish at the Southern season opener, the 26 year old did not qualify for the Elites that way. Instead he fished the Northern Opens and punched his ticket to the Elite Series there.
His journey from the racetrack to the launch ramp has come quickly and he is eager to test his skills on the Elite Series. As mentioned, he recently competed in his first Bassmaster Classic and although he was disappointed with his finish, he is glad he got all of the nervousness out of his system. “The Classic was stressful, I put way too much pressure on myself,” said Shryock.
As we talked about the upcoming season and his sponsors, he was finishing up a day’s work for a business he runs. His business deals with buying and selling scrap metal and it is something that he will continue to do throughout the season. The fact that he has a business he can operate while he chases his dream is key to him. Shyrock says, “I can relax more knowing that I don’t have to cash a check to keep the lights on.” His goal for the season is to catch fish, make a name for himself and just survive until the next year.
Shryock, like Fox and Zaldain, admits he had thought obtaining sponsor support for an Elite angler would have come more easily. He is sponsored by Ranger, Mercury, Berkley Trilene, Berkley PowerBait, Havoc, Spiderwire, and Abu Garcia. He stated that he is, “Learning as I go and I quickly realized that it’s more than just advertising for a company, you need to be a salesman.”
The media side of the sport has been very enjoyable for Fletcher and he is grateful and humble for the attention he has received. “Everyone has been so good for me and helped me get my name out there. I have received a lot of attention, probably even more than I deserve for what I have done so far,” said Shyrock.
While putting the pieces together has come slower than he had imagined, he was quick to point out that, “A year ago I never would have dreamed I would be where I am today; so in that way it’s gone much faster that I imagined.”
These three rookies are among ten newcomers to the Elite Series for 2012. This group is determined to succeed and they have put everything else in their lives on hold as they are now Going Elite.