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Angling for Cash: How Much Money Can You Make In Competitive Sport Fishing?

A recent cheating scandal may be landing the most headlines, but the world of competitive sport fishing is teeming with honest opportunities for anglers to earn some major cash for their biggest catch.

Competitive fishing rarely makes noise, so when it does, you know you’ve got something big on the line.

The story of two fishermen caught cheating at an Ohio fishing tournament last month has certainly reeled in a lot of attention for the sport as of late.

The daring duo, both of whom have been indicted for their wrongdoings, is accused of stuffing fish with lead weights and fillets last month at the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament. If it wasn’t for a tournament director who sensed something was fishy — the moment he cuts a walleye open and digs out lead weights has earned some major engagement online — the two easily could’ve walked off with almost $30,000 in prize money.

$30K for a weekend of walleye fishing!

While the story may cast competitive angling and its competitors in a negative light, it also shines a spotlight on a seldom-publicized sport in which there is anywhere from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line in any given tournament.

So it begs the question: What does success look like in the sport of professional fishing? Also, what can an angler expect to walk away with for prize money?

Before we answer that, let’s look at the many leagues and organizations that make up the competitive fishing landscape.

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The World of Competitive Sport Fishing

Unlike most professional sports, where there is one league to dominate them all, the world of sports fishing is a bit more spread out between professional circuits and tournaments, and those open to pros and amateurs alike.

Also, a lot depends on the type of fishing we’re talking about, as well as the location and species of fish.

For instance, there’s Major League Fishing (MLF), the “world’s largest tournament-fishing organization,” which includes various circuits such as the Bass Pro Tour. Then there’s the National Professional Fishing League (NPFL), which also hosts bass fishing tournaments around the country.

And then there’s the little fish. A lot of little fish.

The tournament that hosted the walleye cheating scandal, for example, was part of the Big Water Walleye Championships, Ohio’s premier tournament series. A well-respected tournament in the world of sport fishing, it is, however, nowhere near the level of the larger freshwater fishing leagues like the MLF and NPFL.

So as you can see, there are countless leagues and organizations, some of which operate on a national level, and others divided up from state to state. And despite there being many faces of fishing, each league or circuit all have one thing in common: lots of cash for the biggest catch.

Let’s now take a look at just how much money is on the line for each type of league and tournament.

How Much Money Can a Professional Sport Fisherman Make?

When it comes to winning fishing tournaments, there are two main prize types: the boats and the bag.

For example, one of the most recent tourneys under the umbrella of Major League Fishing — the Phoenix Bass Fishing League Presented by T-H Marine Regional Event on Lake Murray in Prosperity, South Carolina — earned the victor $67,604, including a new Phoenix 819 Pro bass boat with a 200-horsepower Mercury outboard and $10,000, along with the lucrative $7,000 Phoenix MLF contingency bonus.

By comparison, the payouts for the top angler in the Bass Pro Tour’s last tournament in September earned the victor $100,000. The second-place finisher brought home $45,000, while the third-place netted $38,000.

The NPFL offers similar payouts — roughly $425,000 prize pools at each tournament, which equates to $50,000 for first place, $20,000 for second place, and $16,000 for third place finishers.

And of course, none of this compares to the brand sponsors that fishermen reel in each year.

So factoring in sponsorship money and the potential payout from each tournament, it’s fair to say that it pays to be a professional sport fisherman.

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