It takes more than catching fish from a kayak to earn a sponsorship. That's the easy part. Photo courtesy James Van Pelt.

It takes more than catching fish from a kayak to earn a sponsorship. That’s the easy part. Photo courtesy James Van Pelt.

By James Van Pelt

Pro sponsorship is a topic that’s been visited by some outstanding anglers and people who I look up to in the fishing world. As a pro staffer for nearly a dozen companies ranging from a kayak manufacturer to a net builder, I’m asked about sponsorship almost every day. I figured I would share my views and experiences in the world of sponsored fishing.

I’ll start by saying that while sponsorship helps to ease some of the financial burden associated with traveling and fishing, sponsorship is not without its own stresses. You definitely have to put in the time and effort to make sure you are the best brand ambassador possible.

These are the most common questions I’m asked about pro sponsorship:

Q. I catch a lot of fish. Does that mean I’m ready to get on a pro staff?

A. Catching a lot of fish is great. I know there are a lot of guys and gals out there that far surpass me in that area. At best I consider myself an average angler. That however is not all that sponsorship is about. Catching fish is definitely the first step but when a company’s marketing department allocates precious advertising funds to an angler whether in the form of money or product they expect you in return to help to sell their product.

When thinking about sponsorship, ask yourself whether you are approachable and personable. You might be able to catch more fish than anyone on the planet, but if you don’t have the people skills necessary to interact with the public you won’t have much value to a potential sponsor. If a company invests time and money into you they expect that you will spend time talking with consumers on the water, at the boat ramp, in the fishing aisle at the store and wherever you may find a potential customer. Remember pro staff means promotional staff, so at the end of the day you are there to promote the brand you represent wherever you may find yourself.

Q. Should I just email blast every company and see who gets back to me first?

A. This is by far the worst thing you can do for a number of reasons. The first is that the recreational fishing industry is relatively small. Everyone knows each other. Brand loyalty is huge to companies. Only try to obtain sponsorship from a company whose product you already use and trust. Once you find yourself affiliated with a company stay loyal but don’t bad mouth the competitors. A pro staffer who trashes a competitor’s product reflects poorly on the company he represents. It is the quickest way to get your sponsorship revoked.

Q. What should I ask a company for?

A. This is a tricky question to answer, mostly because your specific deal with a company directly reflects what they feel you can bring to the table. Most companies have different sponsorship levels that range from discounts on product all the way to monetary sponsorship. In your initial contact with a company focus on letting them know what you can do for them and how you can market their brand. Keep your fishing biography brief.

Sponsorship is not for everyone. It takes time, patience and people skills to work for a brand. If you land a sponsor, here’s some more key advice: like any other private business arrangement, keep the details of your deal confidential.

Jim Van Pelt is a prominent Southwest Florida kayak angler known for achievements such as hand-lining a goliath grouper from his kayak. He is currently sponsored by Hobie Kayaks, Raymarine, Plano, Flying Fisherman Sunglasses, Riptide Saltwater Lures, Buffalo Jackson Trading Co, Aquabound Paddles, Bull Bay Rods, Pure Fishing Products, Torqeedo Motors and EGO Nets. He is active on the tournament scene and enjoys guiding and photography. For more on Jim, visit his Fishing Southwest Florida blog.