I recently spent some time with one of the Elite Series pros who was practicing for the Bassmaster Classic at the Red River. During this time I learned more about the business of fishing at the top level than about fishing in general. As a matter of fact, I didn't learn much of anything from the pro except a couple of small bait-rigging tips, some mental strategies and the fact that I need a Humminbird 1197 SI Graph.

Before I spent time with this guy, I wanted to take my fishing to the next level by fishing some Bassmaster Opens or some Strens. After I understood the financial struggles these guys face, and the strategies that go into running a successful business of fishing, I realized that the sacrifice for me is far greater than just chasing a dream.

You not only put your family's financial security on the line, but your relationship with them as well. These guys travel 250 days a year, and believe me, it's not a 250-day vacation – it's a grind far greater than most of us at our 8-to-5 jobs experience. Only a small percentage of the pros have the money to bring their families on the road with them.

Next is the business side of the Elites. Like any other successful business, it's all about sacrifices and investments. Some of these pros have more financial resources than others, and believe me, they use them to their full abilities inside of the rules of the game. I've learned that a couple of the pros have people that they employ to promote them, manage their sponsors and go as far as haul their rigs to tournaments and find fish and contacts for them.

Pros and how they network for information is amazing. This may be the most impressive side of the business. These guys are unbelievable when it comes to selling themselves for local information. They use their existing sponsor network, star image and their own personal money to get the information they need to do the job and make their business a success.

Many of them will go to extreme levels inside the rules to get this information from locals and use it in their arsenal on tournament day. It's just like any other business – the less money you have, the less resources you have and the harder you're going to have to work to compete against the big guys of your business.

Fishing ability and the knowledge of water in general – this is what I think separates the best of the best. Not only do these guys get the best information about specific waters, but they can process this information far more quickly than most. They understand fish in general, how they migrate, how they react to certain weather changes and the way they use different structure and cover depending on the time of the year and the current weather conditions.

These guys can adapt to a condition change in a matter of seconds when it takes your normal angler hours (and that's if they ever do adapt).

Most of these guys have one particular strength in their game, be it flipping, rigging, finesse, deep water, and they predominantly stick to that strength and use it in different ways.

Among your top guys, their electronics are also their lifeline – they help them see through the eyes of the fish. These guys can do amazing things with their electronics and that also helps them do their job more efficiently.

If I can relate one thing about these pros, it's that I respect them and what they're doing because they may seem to be overconfident or somewhat cocky, they may try to use you for your knowledge, but you have to remember they're doing their job. That doesn't mean you should just give them what they want. It means handle them as you would handle any other business at work, because that's their business.

Most aren't doing what they do to make friends or to be some star – they're doing it because they love fishing and they're trying to feed their families at the same time, and every one of them has a different way of running his business. Some get help, some don't. Some pay guides, some don't. Some are cocky, some aren't. Some can find fish, some can't. Some catch them better than others, some just rely on their networking and ability to find fish. And some have the whole package, which brings me to my final point.

With the current economy and the cost of living, I think you need to ask yourself the following questions if you want to go to the next level. And when I say next level, I'm talking about bigger opens and tour levels.

Question 1: Do you have the financial stability? Because if you don't, the added stress of making money to feed your family will overwhelm you and take away from the sheer concentration and mental preparedness you need to compete at this level.

Question 2: Do you have the mental game? Can you dominate at the local level (finish every tournament in the Top 10)? Can you have Clunn on your left and KVD on your right and know that if you don't cash a check in this tournament then your family will run the risk of losing their home or missing a meal? Fishing at this level is mental. Everyone can catch fish. It's the decisions you make and the way you manage your practice, tournament day and emotions that puts you on top.

Question 3: Are you a natural? Most of it's natural talent at this level. Some have it and some don't. It's unexplainable. It's like you're part fish. You think like one, I guess.

Question 4: Do you have the social ability? Can you network sponsors, and build a rapport with other tournament anglers to strengthen your knowledge of both waters and techniques? Can you sell yourself? It's everything at this level.

Question 5: Do you have the look? Sad that in today's society people are judged on their appearance more than their ability. Looks are a big part of this game.

Question 6: Do you have the drive? Do you have it physically and mentally to compete, and work harder than the next guy? Do you have the ability to make those sacrifices of finances, family and friends? Will you get up and go to work at daylight and grind to dark 7 days a week?

In conclusion, I have the utmost respect for these guys. They're hammers. They work hard. They have what it takes to be a pro.

Do I? I may have a couple of factors within me now, but by no means do I have it all.

Do I want to become pro? Maybe one day, but as for now, I'm fine on the Red River – just grinding it out on the local level.

I enjoyed my encounter with the pro I helped. He didn't know he was teaching me everything above. He was just trying to gain the tools for his business, just as I was for the future of my mine. All in all it was a great experience with hopefully some great rewards come February 22nd when the guy I helped is holding that trophy over his head.

It's definitely been one of the greatest tools I've yet put in my pocket, and I hope others will learn from it too.

Clayton Frye, a 28-year-old BassFan from Bossier City, La. fished his first tournament at the age of 13. He considers Pool 5 of the Red River to be his home water and fishes more than 20 tournaments a year there.