In the year 2000, I dove head-first into the business of fishing, incorporating the Millennium Promotions agency and hoping for the best. With the supposed Y2K scare upon us and all the focus on the new millennium, I figured the name was fitting.
Throughout the 20 years since, Iíve seen a lot of changes in the angling world and, more specifically, that of competitive fishing. Some were duds; you could see them coming. Others truly pushed our sport further.
But the greatest advancement, and one that is proving to completely change the sport as we know it, was an idea that I honestly thought would flop.
Organized scholastic fishing.
Now I know Iíve touched on this a bunch in the past. But I recently found myself engaged in another photo shoot to help promote fishing-related products; this time St. Croix Rods out of Park Falls, Wis. The legendary rod builder included a pro fishing line-up for their imagery, including Elite Series competitor Derek Hudnall and others, but their scholastic anglers played an equally important role.
Lee Rose and Carter Koza may have been the first sister/brother team in high school fishing; they were certainly one of the most successful. They once won both B.A.S.S. and FLW high school events in the same month and finished high as a team in the High School Fishing National Championship.
Lee Rose received a fishing scholarship, becoming the first and only woman on the Carson-Newman University fishing team. There, she immediately qualified for the 2020 Yeti College Fishing National Championship before completing her first semester as a freshman. Her brother, Carter, claimed a victory the same weekend to again lock up his spot in the High School Nationals.
But enough of the accolades. The real story here isnít one about qualifiers or wins, trophies or MVP awards. Itís about possibilities.
Now, perhaps this is where youíre expecting overlap from my previous pieces on the subject. And thatís a real possibility, but only because I continue to be baffled about this facet of our industry and often feel compelled to stand atop the mountain and scream to the masses how far weíve come, how fortunate the new players are and how much we owe to all the people who made this possible.
Because, as Iíve said, I never thought this crazy idea had a leg to stand on.
As a doubter, my main argument was that adolescent anglers simply didnít possess the tools Ė namely driverís licenses and bass boats Ė to properly pursue competitive angling. Instead, I thought, it was a cute niche, allowing a few fathers to get pumped about their kidsí success in sports.
However, unbeknownst to me, somehow this thing got off the ground. Somehow, somewhere, there were enough dads, moms, friends and relatives to cart these kids around, often waking at God-awful hours and forfeiting their entire weekend simply to drive trucks and boats around a lake and watch teenagers fish.
And now, itís for real.
Itís real, like, work hard in high school to get a scholarship Ė a pretty darn good scholarship Ė to go to a school specifically and entirely to compete on their fishing team. Itís perform well in college, while meeting industry representatives and offering to help with social media and other promotional projects, and be given the reigns to do so. Itís get flown to Florida to be in a photo shoot for a major rod companyís catalog. Really.
Again, I hope Iím not being repetitive, but I simply canít overstate the paradigm shift that accompanies this new concept. Young anglers can now feasibly chase a dream that most of America never took seriously just a decade ago. The pipeline is in place to put these anglers exactly where they need to be, secure in the possibility of becoming a full-time angler, promotional figure or industry rep.
A few short years ago, I posed a simple question to a 20-something angler who had just qualified for his first BassMaster Classic, but still held down a full-time job at home.
ďDo you think youíll turn pro?Ē I asked.
ďGosh, I hope so,Ē was his answer.
Last week, I posed the same basic question to 17-year-old Carter Koza. His response?
ďOh, yeah. For sure.Ē
Do you see the difference there? And itís not a pipe dream, or the product of cocky teenage behavior. Itís real. Itís absolute that a career as a fishing pro is feasible for stand-out athletes, just like any other scholastic sport. If anything, itís even easier.
Now, to be fair, the Kozas had a bit of a head start. Their father is an accomplished angler and owner of The Dugout Bait and Tackle in Marietta, Ga. But thatís not the point. You see, not everybody on their fishing team has an industry dad or mom, or even knows someone in the fishing world. But they all now have a chance to be in it themselves.
Twenty years ago, I formed Millennium Promotions with a hope for a secure future in the world of fishing. But today, itís the millennials who are conquering the new frontier.
If youíve thought about getting your children involved, or getting involved yourself, take my word for it:
Itís here. And itís real.
(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.)