Relationships take work, tournament fishing takes work, and when you mix the two together, it takes teamwork. Unfortunately, there's no sonar screen you can read to see what's going on below the surface, so here's what pro fishing couples have to say about finding each other and making it all work together.
More Tournaments, Less Turmoil: 10 Relationship Tips from Pro Fishing Couples
1. Try Taking Someone on a Fishing Date
Should you take someone on a fishing date? What about a first date? Absolutely. It worked for Jordan and Kristen Lee!
But, as Randy Howell cautioned us, you'll do better if you can actually put your date on some fish and get them biting. We'd suggest a HydroWave for that of course, but making it safe and fun is the top priority.
A fishing date can help you both get a clearer picture of what you're in for in the longer term and it can also be a good ice breaker. There are all kinds of questions people ask during dates, but we'd say you'll get a great idea of how much someone likes the outdoors, how patient they are, how they deal with adversity, how they interact with others, and much more.
“You should definitely take someone fishing on a first date, but make sure they have a fishing license first. When I took Shelby out for the first time she did not and we got checked by a game warden.”
— Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson
Bassmaster Elite Angler
2. Keep the Positive Side of Competitive Fishing in Mind
Maybe you're a tournament angler who's trying to win someone over or maybe there's some chance you're reading this and wondering how it would be to date a tournament angler. Either way, here's what the pros and their spouses say about why someone should date a competitive angler:
"Most fishermen are good guys." (Jordan and Kristen Lee)
"It’s a fun and adventurous lifestyle!" (Randy and Robin Howell)
"You'll live a non-traditional life and see a lot of the country." (Josh and Bri Douglas)
"Getting to explore not only the USA but travel all over the world and seeing and meeting the best people this earth has to offer." (Carl and Kayla Jocumsen)
"You’ll have fewer bad days of fishing than with someone else!" (Jeff and Shelby Gustafson)
There's definitely balance to be had about the tough realities, but there's plenty of good stuff, too.
3. Keep Boating Together, and Accommodate Your Partner
Whether it’s short trips for fun, romantic cruises, or sharing the fishing life in all day outings, when we asked our pro fishing couples, they all emphasized how it’s important to go boating together whenever possible and make accommodations to cover the needs of the day.
This could involve scenic kayak trips, taking a speed boat out for tubing, showing them the ropes in your fishing boat, or low-key cruises, but there are plenty of ways to make it fun for anyone. Just don’t forget to cover the necessities; this means asking for input on food, drinks, gear, and maybe even considering comforts like heated seats (Bri Douglas says these are a must-have).
“Kayla can hang and fish all day on the boat under one very strict condition: food and drinks must be supplied with options and no chance of running low!”
— Carl Jocumsen
Bassmaster Elite Angler
4. Get to Know Each Other’s Favorite Lakes
If you get to know each other's favorite lakes and activities out on the water, it only gets easier to do what both of you like and keep sharing the outdoors.
For our pros and their spouses, their favorite waters and activities varied quite a bit, including:
- Lake Guntersville (where Jordan and Kristen Lee both enjoy getting in on the summer ledge bite)
- Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River (where the smallies put up a good fight for Randy and Robin Howell and there's no shortage of things to do)
- The family cabin and Lakes of Northern Minnesota (where Josh and Bri Douglas have been going since they were teenagers)
- Lakes of the Pacific Northwest (where Kayla Jocumsen grew up and where both Carl and Kayla love exploring the unique surroundings)
- Crow Lake in Nestor Falls Ontario (where Jeff and Shelby Gustafson can land a lot of fish without a dull moment there)
5. Work Together to Handle Tourney-Fishing Challenges
When asking fishing couples about building a solid foundation in a relationship, we heard five key ideas:
- Work as a team in all that you do
- Be flexible
- Be understanding
- Stay positive
- Keep pressing toward your goals
For couples that are really on their game, that means actively engaging each other. Put your heads together whenever you can, whether you do that with budgeting, scheduling, planning, and/or content creation and media work. At the very least, it makes for a healthy system of decision-making and in many cases, it means extra help boosting your tournament fishing prep and sponsorship appeal.
“I might be the only one doing the fishing but Bri keeps this show on the road, no doubt. When the day comes that I get to hoist a blue trophy, that will most definitely be OUR trophy. It's 100% a team game.”
— Josh Douglas
Bassmaster Elite Angler
6. Remember that Relationships and Competitive Fishing are a Two-Way Street
In addition to working together and advice on how to do that, remember that the coordination and sacrifice has to go both ways. Find a way to make the dream work for both of you. There are definitely instances where you need to be focused and take the time to grind through things, but you need to identify ways to give to your partner, too, and appreciate what they do.
It can be hard to do that when apart, so find ways to travel together when you can to make it more fun and stay connected.
“Be prepared to make sacrifices on both ends. It’s not an easy road and there will be ups and downs. That’s the reality of professional fishing.”
— Jordan Lee
Major League Fishing Angler
7. Be Prepared for the Realities of Tournament Fishing
In the age of social media, happy pictures, and highlights, it's easy to romanticize tournament fishing. That's not to say that it's not awesome, otherwise we wouldn't have the saying that "a bad day fishing is better than a good day in the office", but there are often hours of grind behind a few minutes of glitz and glamor. Chiefly, fishing couples across the board say to count on things like:
- Financial stress
- Challenges of living life on the road
- Missing family functions and events going on back home
- Time away from each other (or a LOT of time right next to each other if traveling together)
- Super early mornings
- Late nights
The way they get through is by making it a "team lift" at times, a relay at other times, and always a matter of getting through it together.
8. Sometimes You Have to Improvise
Just like the best rigs, innovation in relationships is key. This is especially true when tournaments aren't always a good complement to holidays or anniversaries.
As some prime examples, here's how a few pros are spending Valentine's Day this year:
Carla and Kayla Jocumsen: Like many other years, a date night can't be right on Valentine’s Day, but they make sure they have a date night is on the calendar that week.
Josh and Bri Douglas: They’ll be together in Florida and it'll be the last day of practice for the first Bassmaster Elite event of the season, so they're making it up the next day and going out to dinner.
Randy and Robin Howell: Dinner together (but it's via Facetime).
Jordan and Kristen Lee: Jordan is fishing tournaments and aiming to catch a few big ones since he knows that’ll make her happy.
And for Jeff and Shelby Gustafson, Jeff is dedicating his pre fishing and tournament focus to Shelby, and aiming to get her a present with the payout he’s working to reel in.
“This year, we’re having FaceTime dinner together.”
— Randy Howell
Major League Fishing Angler
9. Show You Care, Work it Out, and Respect Your Partner
When we asked our pros for tips about keeping their relationship healthy, there was a common theme that disagreements will come and it will be challenging sometimes, but it's all about how you go about it and keep your eyes on the long term.
You've likely heard it before that "a happy wife = a happy life", and Jordan Lee says he always tries to remember that. For Josh Douglas, he underscored the idea that it's important to never go to bed angry; talk it out, have your argument, and work it out so you're in a better place with one another. Randy Howell advised that it's important to not be afraid to be the first to say you're sorry — it can really help provide a sort of ramp into the water of a resolution.
Jeff Gustafson cautioned that you may be able to lie to others sometimes, but you can't lie to your partner and expect it to work. You're better off facing issues head on and figuring it out. Going one step further, Carl Jocumsen said to remember that the true measure of your success — in your relationships, in your career, and everywhere else — will be how well you treat others. That starts at home.
10. Be Supportive, Give them Space, and Grow Together
Giving them the last word, the wives of our pros had advice to offer, too, especially to those who may be considering a longterm relationship with a competitive angler.
Kristen Lee gave the reminder that you have to accommodate your partner if they're passionate about fishing. If it brings them joy, it has to have a regular place on the schedule. When you're doing that, Robin Howell emphasized that there are ways to help and things to take care of at that time to make it easier. If you're supportive and positive in that way, it shows good will for any challenging times you face.
“Communication is everything, listen to understand and learn, not to just respond. This goes for both sides. Growing together is key!”
— Kayla Jocumsen
If you do find yourself at odds with each other, Shelby Gustafson advocated that you both must speak kindly and constructively. The common theme: good communication is a must.
And on the lighter side, Bri Douglas said "Don't watch the LIVE feed if you want to get anything at all done when your spouse is fishing a tournament." (That one gave us a good laugh because we've all gotten caught up in something, hoping it to turn out one way, but not being able to make a bit of difference at that particular moment.)
Readers: What Tips Do You Have for Fishing Couples?
Whether it's wisdom for the ages, practical tips, or something funny, sound off on social media and let us know!