One of the biggest of the big deals in professional bass fishing will be happening later this month when the Bass Angler Sportsman Society holds its Bassmaster Classic championship on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake (see bassmaster.com).
The Bassmaster championship and rival circuit (and Kentucky-based) FLW Outdoors’ Wood Cup title tournament (flwoutdoors.com), held Aug. 15-18 on Louisiana’s Red River, have become major sporting events with the prize money, media attention and fan following to prove it.
For many bass fishermen, hoisting the Bassmaster championship or Wood Cup trophy and the accompanying hefty check would be a dream come true.
If this is your fantasy, Denny Brauer of Camdenton, Mo., has some advice: Get over your stage fright.
“I had one year of college, and I did take a speaking course, but I was terrified to get up in front of crowds, as I think everyone is, initially,” said Brauer, a former B.A.S.S. Elite Series pro who retired last year after a 32-year bass tournament career and $2.7 million in winnings. Along the way, Brauer became one of the most popular and entertaining seminar speakers on the tournament circuit.
It was a remarkable transformation. Brauer’s competitive fire has always burned hot, and he could always catch fish. But he froze on stage.
Speaking and promoting are important, because those are skills sponsors covet. And at the Big League tournament level, hooking and landing sponsors are as vital as hooking and landing bass.
A friend who worked as a guide on Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks asked Brauer to speak to a local bass club. He reluctantly agreed, but soon regretted it.
“This guy did a lot of promotional work and speaking, and he was very good at it,” said Brauer, who turns 64 this month. “I walked into that room and was terrified to death. I don’t remember what I said, but it turned into an experience that was very uncomfortable.”
The next time his friend asked Brauer to address a fishing audience, he declined … sort of.
“I came up with some excuse that somebody was dying out of state,” he said. “… Anyway, I skipped out on him with that deal.”
Brauer knew he would have to overcome his stage fright if he was to have any kind of successful fishing career. His friend convinced him to try again.
“We went to a deal in St. Louis where we were doing several [seminars] in one day,” Brauer recalled. “He said, ‘I just want you to stand up for five minutes and talk about flipping [a casting technique].’ I thought, ‘I can do that.’ By the end of the day, he was having to tell me to get off the stage.”
Brauer’s career included 17 major tournament victories and two Angler of the Year titles (one B.A.S.S. and one FLW), a Bassmaster Classic championship, countless travel miles, hosting a television show, numerous TV appearances—including two spots on The Late Show with David Letterman—five back surgeries and one knee replacement.
The road to bass stardom is never easy and rarely smooth.
“It’s a tough sport,” said Brauer, whose 1987 win on Lake Barkley earned him the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year award for that season. “You can approach it from the aspect, ‘I’m the greatest fisherman in the world, and I’m going to go win me a bunch of money.’ And if you truly are one of the greatest fishermen in the world, the opportunity is there to win a bunch of money. But if you really analyze the sport, there have only been a few of us that have been able to truly make a living just off winnings during our careers.”
Brauer has enjoyed nearly career-long sponsor associations with Ranger Boats, Strike King Lures, Evinrude outboard motors and a handful of other companies. Those relationships were critical to his on-the-water success.
“If you’re an angler and you’re willing to work your butt off and go out there and fish as hard as you can and fish intelligently and also do the promotional work on top of it, then you’ve got the opportunity to make a great living in this industry,” he said. “That’s how any youngster needs to approach it. Get the education. Get the background to where you can be successful on the endorsement and promotional and educational end of the sport to complement what you’re actually doing on the tournament side of it.”