Some of you may not know the name Nick Prvonozac. However, if you’re a tournament fisherman anywhere near the state of Ohio, you would. Because chances are he’s pocketed a bunch of your money.
BassFans across the country recently got a glimpse of Prvonozac’s abilities when he won the Costa event at Grand Lake. Midwesterners have known about him for years, as Prvonozac seems to possess an uncanny power to win the biggest local events available time after time. Such has provided him the ability to do the unthinkable in today’s tournament fishing industry: Survive as a professional fisherman without traveling the country.
As a full-time pro since 1999, Prvonozac has racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in tournament earnings, including 17 prize boats won in various open and team tournaments while paired with his brother, George. During the early 2000s, the duo was unstoppable, and often competed for five-figure purses every weekend in the fall.
Prvonozac was thus able to survive on tournament earnings alone, although much of that came seasonally and in a small number of events. But staying close to home was always the most responsible option – with two small children at the time, and the booming local tournament scene, it would take more than glitter and gold to lure him to the pro ranks.
“I had so many chances to win boats at home, travel was stupid,” he reflected.
Fast forward a couple decades, and Prvonozac seems to be at a crossroads. He’s still competing and dominating on the local scene, but the fishing industry has changed, resulting in fewer opportunities for a good haul in those events. He turned to the FLW Tour as an option – competing there off and on over the last three seasons – but couldn’t make things work financially. As Prvonozac summed up, investing $5,000 into an entry fee each month is simply impossible for most anglers, or most people, in America.
In addition, Prvonozac again found himself a new father with three additions to his family over a five-year span, resulting in the need for a more realistic viewpoint on his time and finances. “I calculated how long I’d be gone to fish the Tour; it was 88 days from February to June,” he said.
Prvonozac turned to the Costa FLW Series as a means to continue. With an end-of-the-year championship offered, investment vs. return is the best of any mid-range circuit today, and events are spread out throughout the year, requiring only brief time periods away. The decision proved to be a smart one: Since 2015, Prvonozac has cashed checks in nine of the eleven events he’s fished, including the recent win.
The timing of his Grand Lake victory couldn’t have been better.
“Going into Grand Lake, I was contemplating getting a job with security,” Prvonozac said. He mentioned the desire for the perks most people take for granted, such as health benefits and a retirement plan. “In fishing, there’s no solid future unless you’re really good and do extremely well.”
But with his back against the wall, Prvonozac pulled out the win, and likely carried his career further into the future, although uncertain of its direction. He has a decent group of sponsors, including Pradco, that continue to believe in his abilities at any level. But when questioned about the possibility of fishing nationally, Prvonozac again expressed concern over time away from home, as well as the ability to learn foreign bodies of water before he has a reasonable chance to compete on them.
Prvonozac’s story is one we’ve heard a lot lately. It reminds me, in a way, of a recent in-depth conversation with John Murray. Murray, you might recall, took fishing locally to the extreme, and was likely winning more money in bass tournaments than anyone in the world during the West-coast tournament heyday.
We’ve seen it all across the country. From the Thousand Islands to Buggs Island, there’s always been an allegiance of anglers who prefer to sleep in their own beds and still pay the mortgage by fishing. Yet,those days may very well be behind us. From here on out, it may be necessary for every pro to concentrate on the highest level of competition and put up with its nearly impossible lifestyle to earn any real money.
But how did this all happen? Where did the support for regional circuits go? Regularly pondering that very question, I’m not sure I have an answer. As a regional competitor for many years, I witnessed dwindling participation in my area around the time of the out-of-control gas prices of the early 2000s, and it seems tournament interest never came back. We’re seeing some resurgence now – FLW’s BFL trail has experienced high levels of participation lately, and is likely the best barometer – but still, the big local circuits continue to be absent in much of the country. A few are trying, as we’ve reported, but we’re far from the good ol’ days.
Perhaps it’s another sign of the continued segregation within our ranks, where many feel it’s impossible to compete without a six-figure investment in equipment. More likely, it’s the general direction the industry has moved as a whole: now, nothing matters but the top tier.
Who cares about state or regional events; it’s the Elites or Tour or nothing at all. Why bother sponsoring a local event, or website, or angler; put all the money into household-name pro staff. Pay no attention to the peons; the cameras are rolling.
This trend – to place all emphasis on the smallest portion of the bass fishing market (professional tournament fishing) – is a dangerous one, friends. It isolates the buying public, as well as the recreational competitors who really drive this sport. Remember, it’s not the full-time pros buying the boats, tackle, gas and hotel rooms. It’s the guys watching them on TV, now with fewer places to play on weekends.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)