So You Want to Make a Living in the Fishing Industry?

I was at a friend’s cabin near Hackensack, MN last winter when my cell phone rang.  It was Al Lindner, and Al’s excitement was infectious.  We both talked at length about an idea that’s probably the number one question I get no matter what I do in the fishing industry.  Whether at a seminar, retail event, or via email, people are fascinated by the question, “How Do I Make a Living in the Fishing Industry?” 

Al invited me as one of many in a panel of speakers for a workshop held this fall, which is designed to help answer just that question.  That’s because there’s more than one path to help turn your hobby into a livelihood.  There’s all kinds of roles throughout “fishing,” from marketing specialists, product developers, writers, media personalities, biologists, conservation officers, and many, many more.  Each person’s journey is different, and depending on your skill set, you may be well-suited for several roles but not for others.  While no two paths are the same, here are some nuggets of wisdom that have been shared with me, which I’ve found to be especially true no matter which direction you tread down. 

My start actually came while I was already involved headlong in another natural-resources related career.  I began in the late 1990’s posting on various online fishing forums, sharing advice and being helpful when I could as others had questions.  When I had fishing information to share, I relayed simply those bits that as an angler I would want or be interested in myself.  It wasn’t long before that online writing began to catch the attention of some manufacturers, who in the early years I partnered with because I’d always used their products and believed in them. 

I was young and impetuous, quick-witted but slow-minded.  I made every mistake in the book but maintained my passion for the outdoors through it all, constantly striving to both whet my appetite for hunting and fishing goals I already had of myself, while trying to partner with companies to help fund my addiction.  Call it trial-by-fire or more appropriately, trial-and-error, I mucked my way through the initial years.  I spent the first five of it not really getting paid for any of the writing, online promotional work, or retail events I did, and the next ten doing my best to perform tasks as a business; professionally delivering services while not going backwards financially in the process.       

As for writing, Outdoor News Columnist and legendary writer Gary Clancy was famous for saying, "The most important requirement of being an outdoors writer is having a wife with a good job."  I’d tend to agree with his statements as I’ve pushed for nearly two decades to simply earn a seat at the table.  Which is why money needs to be a motivating factor but not a primary goal in this line of work. 

The fishing industry most certainly isn’t for everyone.  However, if you were the “fishiest” kid among your group of friends or in your whole school, this may be for you.  If all four seasons of the year’s calendar revolved around the next trip, fishing-season, or timely outdoors activity, you may be able to withstand the long hours and sacrifices.  More importantly, if you find yourself already taking existing skills like writing, photography, speaking, sales, and marketing to bear for fishing-related purposes, this just may be your calling.

Let’s get one thing straight however.  Being a skilled angler is not enough, for most jobs in the industry it’s simply a prerequisite.  Very few people get paid to fish, and those that do are either at the pinnacle of their careers or more often are doing so under the pressure of a budget, schedule, or other constraining factors which for most people, makes it no longer resemble the fishing they once knew and loved.  

If you’re a freelancer, you must make the initial capital investment in yourself, with the hopes of eventually growing your thought-leadership such that your voice may be heard.  That capital investment for me was a strong education, and I recommend it to all anglers hoping to someday work in fishing.  Do this while understanding that your expectations should equal your effort, noting that most start-ups no matter the industry don’t turn a profit for the first few years.  Your “business” whatever it may be, will in the early years be funded 95% by you, and 5% by the industry.  Your “business plan” should be to reverse those numbers over a period of time.  During this time it’s common to have a side job or two in order to pay the bills.

Decide what to be, and go be it.  Specialize early on to bring your talents to bear for underserved disciplines, locations, or species.  Know your strengths, but more importantly, your limitations, while building relationships with the companies, brands, andtheir representatives.  Don’t ask for a thing from them until you have forged a strong relationship, and they know you as someone that may be able to help them.  Build your voice through as many avenues as you can, whether it be online, print media, in-person, or all of the above.  All the while, live a clean life, as it’s worth saying that one mistake can destroy credibility, which you should value above all else. 

As Al and I wrapped up our conversation that winter’s day, I couldn’t help but look out over the frozen lake while thinking on all the mistakes, mis-steps, and lost opportunities I had squandered mostly on account of not knowing any better.  If you’re serious about a career in the industry, you owe it to yourself to bone-up on the subject far better than I ever did.  There’s some great books out there, online advice, and this Fishing Career’s workshop coming up.  Whether you decide that it’s for you, or it’s not, I know I’m incredibly thankful for the wisdom passed on-to me, and I’m hoping to pay-it-forward as best I can this October. 

Al and Troy Lindner are hosting the “Fishing Career’s Workshop,” on Saturday October 28th, at Cragun’s Resort in Brainerd, MN.  Go to https://mycampfish.com/products/fishing-careers-workshop to sign-up.  Limited seats available. 

Doing More with Leadcore - Advanced Tactics

Photo Credit - Matt Addington

Photo Credit - Matt Addington

My initial forays into leadcore for walleyes were pretty basic.  Start with a full-core (10 color) setup, drop back a crankbait until it “ticked” bottom occasionally, and wait for a walleye or sauger to pull on the other end.  The more I used it however, the more advantages I saw it present for all kinds of situations.  Lessons learned from numerous salmon and trout charter captains helped shape the way I think of it for walleyes no matter where I fish.  From deep clear water lakes, to even shallow river situations, there’s much more you can do with a leadcore setup than the old drop-back-and-drag.

I think the first key to fine-tuning different approaches with lead line is to fully realize where it excels, and where it does not.  By its construction and very nature, leadcore fishing involves trolling, and is best utilized for pulling at consistent depths.  The string of lead running through that tube of braided line serves a single purpose, and that’s to sink, such that letting out more means more depth and vice versa.  Hairpin trolling runs along tight, variable breaks are challenging and only encouraged where leadcore fishing presents the last or best means to offer baits to fish.  Another key for taking this technique further is to realize that sinking line doesn’t always mean sinking to the lake or river bottom.  Here are my top methods for extending leadcore beyond simple back-of-the-boat trolling:

Segmented Leadcore

It’s likely you’ve heard of open basin trolling, where suspended walleyes chasing Tullibee are targeted by imitator crankbaits at the depths of fish gorging on bait.  Segmented leadcore, or a finite number of colors of lead line spooled to backing, is a primary driver for the technique.  For example, a 3-color segmented leadcore setup simply means 3 colors of lead, then backing are spooled to the reel.  Charter captains that utilize leadcore for salmon fishing often have 2 rods (one for each side of the boat) rigged with 3, 4, 5, 7 or other numbers of colors per reel each.  This is with the idea that a specific rod/reel combination will serve a separate portion of the water column, no matter where you want to reach.  For walleye anglers, quite often I recommend having a 3-color segmented leadcore setup.  This is simply achieved by spooling up your backing, then 3 colors of lead. 

Remember that the driver behind this is depth, and if you’re using Sufix Advanced Leadcore, your dive is 7-feet per color, and various forms of standard leadcore 5-feet per color when trolling around 2mph.  Pull faster, and you raise approximately 1 foot for every 0.2 mph in speed, pull slower, the same is true in reverse.  From there, add the depth of your crankbait depending on the length of your leader.  Long leaders make for a truer dive depth as advertised on the package.  Shorter leader lengths in the 6 foot or so category, and you’re only going to get an additional foot or two of dive. For example, if I’m running a #5 Shad Rap on 3 colors of Advanced leadcore at 2.2 mph with a 6 foot fluorocarbon leader, my math would be as follows:

(7’ per color X 3 colors) + (2 foot crankbait diving depth) – (1 foot for 0.2mph speed increase) = ~22FOW     

If that math is confusing, try breaking down each step that contributes to dive or rise.  If it’s still confusing, there’s an app for that.  It’s called the Leadcore Depth Calculator on Android/IOS and is pretty handy.  From there, even if you’re confused, get out and pull it around.  Depth is relative, and if you find success, repeat, repeat, repeat. 

 

Planer Boards

Salmon and trout guys will tell you that their biggest fish often come on the outside “boards,” which is no surprise in clear water given that often these fish are less than 50 feet down in ultra-clear water where the boat will spook fish.  Walleye anglers should pay attention, as the same is often true when pulling segmented leadcore in open-basin situations. 

Attach planer boards above leadcore a few feet on the backing to avoid ruining the lead inside your line, and cover various depths via your 3-color, 4-color, or more segmented leadcore rods.  Let your electronics tell you where you’re seeing feeding walleyes with schools of bait, then target those depths above, at, and below the same level as the fish.  Use planer boards to maximize the number of rods you can legally use by spreading out baits and putting them further away from the boat. 

Other Wrinkles

Tourney pros long ago learned to run leadcore in shallow water where it was murky or turbid enough to get away with it.  The benefit being that they could run 2 leadcore setups almost as if they were downrigger balls, directly behind and below the boat with very little line out.  This freed them up to run more traditional mono or braid long-line trolling applications further back behind the boat where more rods were legal, such that they could run 4 or more setups without anything tangling.  The leadcore is pinned directly behind the boat, and the other setups need to be back 100-150’ or more to achieve depth.

 Many anglers run spinners and bait on leadcore as well, while again remembering that this technique is all about getting your presentation to a specific depth.  Leadcore achieves that objective and then some, with many anglers considering it a key part of their fishing strategy come midsummer.  I know I do.  Even into the fall, I use leadcore anytime there are walleyes deeper than 15 FOW, spread across or along a relatively unchanging depth, scattered or in small pods.  Utilize these more advanced techniques to get at them no matter where in the water column they may be. 

Getting Started With Leadcore

Photo Credit - Matt Addington 

Photo Credit - Matt Addington 

Getting off the ground with a new system can be challenging.  You’ve got the initial capital expense just in equipment, and a steep learning curve ahead regarding the use of it.  When it comes to running leadcore line for walleyes however, both the cost and effort to get better at it are justified expenses.  With leadcore trolling being a technique a great lakes charter captain would more likely deploy than a land-locked lakes angler, there’s a bit of an intimidation factor.  That’s probably why I field more questions on leadcore than any other subject during the summer months.  Rest assured, though it may seem tricky at first, it very quickly becomes old hat and something you wished you’d have tried sooner. 

As walleyes move progressively deeper throughout the summer months, having a strong leadcore game in your arsenal can be one of the best ways to continue getting bit well into the August doldrums.  No matter what part of the water column your ‘eyes are in, the idea behind leadcore is that a length of lead weight running through the center sleeve of a braided line can help sink any offering pulled behind it down and into the fish’s zone. 

More than just a search tool, it can be an effective way to target fish spread out along a long break or large structural element.  When pulling live-bait rigs and even spinners takes too long between pods of fish, and a healthy dose of concentration is needed in big-water, leadcore allows you to put rods in holders and ride out swells while putting fish in the boat at the same time. 

Leadcore is far from a big-water-only pattern either, as Mille Lacs guide and walleye-guru Brad Hawthorne will tell you, it works on smaller lakes just the same.  He recently took 4th place at the Camp Confidence Tournament on Gull Lake, a water-body he’s only fished a handful of times in the fall, by pulling his Mille Lacs-ready leadcore setups out of his rod storage and slapping them into holders.  “We smacked a 23 (inch walleye) right away, then another mid-20’s fish, and continued to put ‘eyes in the boat on a long stretch of break that people were lining up on to live-bait rig.” 

Personally, I’ve pulled walleyes out of lakes far smaller than Gull using leadcore, even at night for clear water bodies.  The point is that it flat-works, but how to get started?  You may have heard that it can be finicky, knot easily, while having the tendency to run together and tangle all the baits in your spread.  While there is some truth to that statement, the benefits far outweigh any negatives, and getting off the ground with this technique will prove it to you.     

The Setup – The cornerstone of every good leadcore program is a Medium to Medium Heavy, Moderate Action trolling rod, paired with a slightly oversized line-counter reel, and a spool of leadcore line.  You can easily spend well over $200 per combo, but you don’t need to, especially if you’re unsure how much leadcore trolling you’ll be doing.  Buy two combos at a time, so you can spool up the same way, with the same amount of line, on the same rod/reel.  Learning one system will make it less confusing. 

The Line - Big boxes and small tackle shops alike make it easy these days by helping you both with the purchase, and by spooling up for you.  Start with a reputable #18lb leadcore line, and for those looking to up their game, consider the Sufix Advanced leadcore.  Standard leadcore dives on average 5-feet per color, with the Advanced leadcore diving to 7-feet per color.  The result is more depth per less units of line, but either way, consider putting on a full-core.  Leadcore line is marked by a different color every 10 yards, so a full-core would be 10-colors, or 100 yards.  You will likely not need to dive to this depth, but it’s a good starting place to get you acquainted with the method.  Start by filling the reel first with some backing, which can be braid or mono, though mono is cheaper.  The amount is variable, so it’s often best to fill one reel backwards starting with leadcore, then backing until full, then fill the empty reel from the full one noting on your linecounter how much backing was used.  Fill the original, and now empty reel with the same amount of backing, then secure the leadcore for two full reels that are the same.

The Leader – On the end of your leadcore goes a leader of varying length and material.  On Lake Pepin, or other areas where I’m trolling hard substrate with zebra mussels, I run a 3-5 foot section of braided leader, then a snap, then my lure.  On ultra-clear water bodies like Mille Lacs, I run a 30 foot leader of 10# Fluorocarbon to keep my offering less visible.  Unsheath the end of your leadcore, and pull out 6 inches or so of the lead.  Pull the sheath back down and use it to tie an applicable braid to mono, or braid to braid knot.

The Lures – Any crankbait runs well with this scenario, as do spinners and a variety of other lures designed to be pulled. 

Putting It Into Action – Start by letting out a few colors of line while going 2.2-3.0mph.  Let out line evenly to prevent overruns and do your best to keep kinks and tangles to a minimum.  When leadcore knots, the interior lead can break and poke out in places.  These fractures make everything more difficult, so avoid them by dropping line back slowly and evenly.  Deep diving crankbaits should be let out until you’re reliably making contact with bottom occasionally.  You don’t want to be digging in constantly, as this causes baits to wander then tangle.  Pull along gradually similar depths, and as you get better at both reeling in line and letting it out to trace bottom, work your way towards pulling it along breaks. 

When employed in this manner, leadcore is a great tactic for getting crankbaits near bottom.  Through experience, you can learn to do this well, and cover the bulk of advantageous leadcore trolling situations.  That said, there’s even more we can do with leadcore to cover all kinds of bases.  Stay tuned, as advanced leadcore tactics will be the subject of next week’s article.

Side-Imaging for the Walleye Crowd

Photo Credit - Matt Addington - http://mattaddingtonphotography.com

Photo Credit - Matt Addington - http://mattaddingtonphotography.com

Walleye-anglers are a traditional bunch in-general.  New techniques and technologies are directly compared to known commodities, and rightly so.  There’s no use making things more difficult than they need to be, yet sometimes along the way what’s learned is in and of itself valuable.  I find that to be especially true in the case of side-imaging electronics for walleye fishing. 

So often, structural anglers are used to locating a spot of interest via high definition contours, then picking those locations apart with traditional down-sonar in an effort to locate fish, catch them, and store location (GPS) information in order to return to that spot someday down the road.  Lest we forget, at one time this technology was also new, though its adoption was rapid amongst the ranks of professionals and casual anglers alike.  Still, I’ve heard it mentioned in even upper echelons of walleye nerdery, that Side-Imaging is only for “bass-guys.”

A staple amongst tournament bass anglers these days is Side-Imaging runs that map both structural elements, and individual fish to target.  At last year’s Bassmaster Angler-of-the-Year tournament on Mille Lacs, dozens of complete strangers to the fishery pulled 60lb. bags of smallmouth bass during the 3-day competition, most of them leaning heavily on using their Side-Imaging to locate large boulders and individual bass off them.  This very application while being a classic use of the technology, is not a reason to classify it as a “bass-only” benefit.  

Shallow water walleyes can be found throughout the warm-water months during big wind events, even in clear water.  That same clarity provides a solid reason to consider Side-Imaging on your next electronics purchase, as walleyes rarely tolerate overhead boat traffic in clear-water shallows.  The imaging becomes your eyes up shallow, allowing you to stay back off of the fish, and put a multitude of presentations to them without pushing them around and killing the bite.  Shallow fish are typically feeding, so these are the fish you’re looking to target anyway.

While Side-Imaging proves very valuable for any species relating to shallow structural elements, the same also holds over the depths.  It’s a common misconception that side-imaging isn’t useful at the same depths we’re typically targeting walleyes.  On a recent trip to Grand Rapids, MN, I used my Lowrance Carbon-12 to image an underwater point I’ve fished often, both during open-water and through the ice.  While I knew there was an 8-foot rock-pile along the shallow lip of it, I didn’t give credit to that rockpile and how it affected walleye movements out and away from it.  All of our bites came off the pile some distance in 14-18FOW, as fish staged there before dark awaiting the low-light evening assault on those shallow rocks.  Not surprisingly, immediately out from the pile was a hard-bottom, rock-free shelf.  It was noticeably different from the surrounding break, and drew the majority of those fish.  Once I knew what I was looking for, I could find it on the down-sonar, but it literally jumped out at me on the side-imaging.

An even deeper application can be found on the famed mud flats of Mille Lacs, where savy anglers for many years have known that not all parts of all flats are mud.  There is a surprising amount of rock and gravel in certain locations, though most are in small out of the way places along the edge of the flats.  With a good chop, and the resultant screen display of your sonar showing a “wavy” bottom, it’s difficult to detect the tell-tale signs of rough or un-even rock bottom.  These locations, being different from surrounding substrate for at times, miles, almost always have fish on them or nearby.       

Perhaps the best way to introduce yourself to the technology is to image an area you already know, preferably if you know it holds fish.  So often as walleye anglers we stumble onto a mere piece of the puzzle.  We catch fish on one side of a reef for a short period of time in late afternoon, without realizing that we only intercepted fish in a 30 minute window making their way out of the depths and up to structure to feed.  Even if we know fish are likely to be up top and actively eating, we know not what locations have the largest boulders, the most pronounced feeding shelves, or what areas are too weed-choked to effectively fish in low-light.  All of those answers can be gleaned from a quick pass or two around the structure of interest. 

Take this technology for a spin on a few locations you’ve fished for years, and be amazed at the depth and level of information it offers you.  Consider it the best real-time map that’s offered today, and get used to seeing and interpreting what information in the plan direction really means to your fishing, rather than just the profile depth direction we’re so used to seeing in the sonar of old.   

The Next St(age)

After a fairly successful introduction to fishing for my two young sons, now ages 9 and 12, it’s been a slow-go in recent years.  It took some steady learning on my part to understand that snacks, bait, shoreline rocks, and frogs were far more interesting an experience, and that all the pressure I put on myself to keep bobbers dunked and lines tight didn’t really matter all that much unless they had the freedom to experience fishing the way they wanted to.  About the time it started clicking for me, it came to a grinding halt for them.  What was once an easy task to convince them to head out fishing for a few hours, became painstakingly difficult, requiring bribes and negotiations regarding all kinds of competing activities.  Maybe I’d made it too easy for them, or perhaps there was still too much focus on the fishing?  Either way I had somehow managed to do what I promised not to do, which was burn them out on it in some way or another.

Now, as my boys have gotten past those initial stages, I see them coming back to the sport of fishing that I know and love, just maybe not as much for the same reasons.  All of which is fine by me, as anything that gets them on the water is positive as far as I’m concerned.  A few fishing fanatic friends have really turned the tide, as angling becomes a way to hang out with their buddies as much as anything.  It’s amazing how “uncool” something can seem when coming from your parents, only to find out how “cool” it is when introduced to the very same activities and ideas by peers.  A bit of boyhood bravado, brought on by some impressive fish pictures, has helped to fuel that fire as they trade these photos back and forth as if they were a form of currency or man-measure.  All of which is not necessarily that dissimilar from our own grown-up angling aspirations.

I certainly don’t know it all as it pertains to helping your kids along with fishing, but my own family has provided a great case-in-study.  I continue to learn the do’s and don’ts of fishing with kids, and am anxious to see where it goes from here.  That said, here’s what I’ve learned in helping to take some initial interest and grow it into what I hope becomes a life-long activity for them:

Bigger Species – Kids eventually bore from the bluegills and crappies under a bobber routine, and at least for my own kids, by ages 7 and older they were ready to try some other species.  While they didn’t then, and still don’t, have the patience for an all-day walleye expedition, pike and bass provide more than enough excitement to keep them busy.  Going after the “big” fish becomes a great draw, even when not catching as their attention-span gradually increases.

New Techniques -   My children hated trolling or more passive techniques like live-bait rigging, even when catching fish.  Then, casting was the draw, and forcing them to keep the rod in a holder or worse, in-hand but still, was pure torture.  Now, simple patterns like throwing spinnerbaits to weed edges or casting senko-type plastics in the shallows will keep the kids busy for hours, especially if the action is reasonable.  As their fishing universe expands, you’re creating a feedback loop where the more they learn and understand, the more they want to consume.

Bring a Buddy – Take advantage of the fact that as your kids get older, they often naturally want to spend more time with friends than just family.  Recently, on a Lake Pepin trolling run, I had my oldest in the boat for more than half a day, and his buddy posted his (at the time) personal best walleye.  We were trolling crankbaits, something my son previously couldn’t stand.  Now I’m fielding requests from other friends of his that want some boat time, and the benefit is getting to spend some more time with your child and fishing all at the same time. 

Photos and More – With how digitally easy it is to preserve and send memories these days, take as many photos as you can.  You’d be amazed at how proud they are of fish or experiences you wouldn’t think to take shots of, like the recent 10lb Sheepshead my son caught while hoping it was a walleye the whole way to the net.  If you’re socially savvy, share their catch and watch their chest swell as others congratulate them and pile on accolades.  Those memories mean more to them than we know. 

Don’t Forget the Fun – Even though their patience level is increased and they may be able to make it all day, make sure the event stays fun.  For them, every trip on the water is special, no matter how often you get a chance to fish, so make sure to do all those little things right.  Maybe it’s a meal out on the way home, some special boat snacks, or even just letting them pick the music (as painful as that may be) in the boat or on the drive to and from.

It’s a fun ride, and I continue to learn more with each trip I take, but know that there’s not a bad time to take your kids fishing.  I find myself sometimes passing on the opportunity for better weather, longer hours on the water, or increased opportunities, but as long as you keep it a fun event no matter how well the fish cooperate, I’m convinced they’ll choose fishing first more often than not. 

VigLink badge