If you’re an amateur walleye angler aspiring to turn professional, there’s no more crucial step to your long-term financial success than attracting sponsors — those companies that pay you to represent them at fishing tournaments, sport shows, and other public appearances. And just as important as signing that first contract is knowing how to maintain your relationship with a sponsor over the long haul.
Someone who has inked contracts with more than a dozen sponsors is In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail (PWT) tournament pro Mark Brumbaugh of Arcanum, Ohio. Brumbaugh began his professional fishing career in 1991 and rocketed to the top of the walleye fishing world in just four short years, winning the PWT championship in 1995. Since then, he’s won the Western Pro-Am held at Lake Oahe in South Dakota in 1996, and placed high in numerous other tournaments. In 2004, he was voted PWT Sportsman of the Year by his professional fishing peers. Always willing to help amateur anglers as well as his fellow pros, Brumbaugh agreed to share some of his hard-won wisdom concerning sponsorships with Walleye In-Sider.
“To be a successful pro angler,” he says, “you’ve got to love walleye fishing, and it helps to be good at it. But you also need to be a good salesman, because you have to sell yourself to sponsors throughout your career. Attend college to study marketing or sales,” he suggests, “and then begin fishing tournaments as an amateur.
“It’s difficult to make a living walleye fishing from just tournament money wins alone, so sponsors are a must,” he says. “Attracting sponsors is tough, but you do it by finishing high consistently in tournaments and conducting yourself professionally. Sponsors are looking for anglers who can represent their company and products in a positive, professional light. If you can do this, you can be a pro angler. It’s not just about fishing, there’s also a lot of hard work involved off the water. I spend just about every weekend in January, February, and March each year appearing at sport shows across the country, giving fishing seminars and representing my sponsors,” Brumbaugh says.
How to approach a potential sponsor? “I seek them out if I like their product,” says Brumbaugh. “If I’ve caught fish on a bait produced by a certain lure company, I contact them and ask if they’d like to sponsor me. I usually make my first formal proposal in a written letter to the company’s advertising department.”
What’s the best way to maintain sponsoroships? “I send my sponsors quarterly and annual written reports of where I’ve been and what I’ve done,” he says. “The reports list the tournaments I’ve fished and the sport shows and other appearances I’ve made on their behalf. I also regularly ask what I can do for them, how I can help them. It pays to keep in touch.”
Why would a company not producing fishing equipment be interested in sponsoring a walleye pro? “It usually comes down to the fact that someone at the company likes to fish,” Brumbaugh says, “or their customers like to fish. An advantage of working with non-fishing-related companies is that they usually have larger advertising budgets than most fishing tackle companies, meaning more money to potentially spend on you. And by contacting companies outside of fishing, you’re also competing with fewer pro anglers. So don’t rule out any company,” he advises. “You never know who might be interested.
“Fishing is the fun and relatively easy part of being a professional walleye angler,” Brumbaugh concludes. “The rest of my time is spent trying to help my sponsors sell their products. Landing sponsorships certainly helps pay the bills but,” he adds with a grin, “it doesn’t hurt to also have a spouse holding down a regular job with fringe benefits, like health insurance. I don’t have that luxury, though. My wife and I are both self-employed.”
Mark Brumbaugh has many sponsors, only two of which (Reef Runner and Ol’ Smokehaus) are located in his home state of Ohio. Listed alphabetically, his sponsors include: Abu Garcia, Beckman, Berkley, Dee Zee, Glyde-Ryde, Lindy Legendary Fishing Tackle, Mercury, Motor Guide, Off-Shore, Ol’ Smokehaus, Polar Kraft, Reef Runner, and Solar Bat.