By Todd Ceisner
When Ryan Patterson won the FLW College Fishing national championship back in 2012, he figured a pro fishing career wasn’t too far off. The victory earned him a $50,000 payday, a new boat and a berth in the Forrest Wood Cup later that summer to go up against some of the best anglers in the sport. Life was good for the then-Kansas State student.
“I thought it would be the start of something big,” Patterson said.
It was, but that something big wasn’t a career on the competitive side of the sport. As much as he was drawn to all of the aspects of tournament fishing, ultimately, he traded in his jersey for a logoed polo shirt and career on the sales and marketing side of the fishing industry. After a stint with Ranger Boats, Patterson left to become part of the team at Vexus Boats, where he now serves as the national sales manager.
“I was ate up with it on the tournament side, but being a pro wasn’t meant for me,” Patterson said during a recent fishing trip at Lake Fork, where he showed off Vexus AVX2080, a 20-foot, 2-inch aluminum boat that looks, feels and fishes like a fiberglass rig.
“I didn’t want to be gone that much. I still fish BFLs here and there and some team circuits around the house, but I wanted to have a traditional professional career, something steadier than fishing tournaments.”
He credits his parents for helping him weigh all of his options several years ago and encouraging him to play the long game when choosing a career path.
“They kept me grounded to the fact that I’d made a little money at the Cup, but before I let it all go on travel and entry fees, I had to be sure it was what I wanted to do,” he said. “They really made me think about it.”
“Kids these days come up and say they want to be a pro, and I think that’s great, but a lot needs to happen for that to come to fruition.”
Legend Next Door
By the time Patterson bid farewell to Kansas State, he was starting to learn the inner workings of the boat-building industry. He did a summer internship at Ranger Boats in 2011 and returned for a second go-round in 2012 after winning the college title.
The work he did was hardly glamourous, but he loved every minute of it.
“I was the guy washing boats and helping with photo shoots and going to the Cup to help set up the booth,” he said. “I was bumping elbows with the guys you watch on TV. I thought, ‘It’s hard to believe that there’s a way to make a living being around what I’ve watched since being a kid.’ That’s pretty cool. I got ate up with it.”
Originally from Kansas, Patterson’s summer landlord in Flippin, Ark., was pretty well known around town.
“Those two summers, I rented a house from Forrest Wood,” he said. “He was my neighbor. I’m moving in and Forrest and Nina come over and ask if they could help with anything.”
It didn’t take long for Patterson to see for himself the work ethic that allowed Wood to build Ranger Boats into a premier boat brand, if not the premier brand, in the industry.
“He’s up at 5:15 checking cows and works until dark,” Patterson said. “He’s a guy who’s real and would give you the shirt off his back.”
After his second internship, he was offered a job at Ranger and worked his way to the role of sales manager.
“I got in when the boat business started to pick back up,” he said. “I fell in love with the business overall. Being at the Classic, the Cup and dealer meetings in between. It’s all about relationships and the good people in the industry.
“Sometimes our sport loses sight of the fact we have so many good people in it. The worst days aren’t really that bad, no matter what you’re selling, especially when you meet a father and son that come to a Classic or an open house and they tell you the places they’re looking forward to fishing. They eat, sleep and breathe it.”
After 5 years at Ranger, Patterson decided to reunite with Keith Daffron at Vexus, which is also headquartered in Flippin.
“Keith is one of my best friends and the team at Vexus is like family to me,” Patterson said. “It wasn’t easy because the people at Ranger had been great to me. I was extremely close with the guys at Vexus and they offered me an opportunity and I wanted to get in on it. It’s been exciting.”
Patterson said the response to the line of Vexus aluminum boats has been overwhelmingly positive and the company is hoping to build on that momentum with the release of its first fiberglass model early next year.
“It’s more exciting than a feeling of pressure,” he said. “Innovation is what drives our industry. It’s about catching green fish and the things we’re doing at Vexus is going make me a better fisherman on Saturdays.
“At the end of the day, we’re just a bunch of guys that want to build nice fishing boats for people that want to use them and create a customer experience where we know their names and they know us.”
It’s something he can see himself doing for a long time to come.
“I have no intention of doing anything else,” he said. “I love the small feel to the industry and the relationship driven aspect of it.”