September 25, 2015

The Life of a Fisherman's Widow

As I sit here typing this, my husband is fishing possibly one of the biggest tournaments of his life thus far.  This weekend is the 3rd and final Bassmaster Northern Open event for 2015 on Lake Erie.  The outcome of which will be the deciding factor to find out if he will be fishing the Opens again next year or if he’s moving to the big show – The Bassmaster Elite Series.  Currently, he is tied for 20th in the Angler of the Year points.  At the end of this, I’m not sure exactly what place he needs to finish in the tournament to qualify for the Elites, but I know he needs to be in the top 5 overall in AOY points to make it in.  I can only imagine what is going through his head right now, not to mention the pressure that he is putting on himself to succeed. 

Anyone can go on the internet and find all sorts of articles or blogs to find out what the life of a tournament angler is really like, but there are very few out there that talk about what the spouses and families go through.  The sacrifices we have to make in order to watch our loved ones follow their dreams.  This is not an easy road.  It takes an emotional, mental and physical toll on both our parts and we both need to be committed to make this work.  Lets discuss, shall we?  I guess I should start at the beginning.  Ten years ago Josh and I made a compromise - we would get married on the beach in the Bahamas if he could get a bass boat upon our return.  Done and done.  For the next 2 years of our life, he would compete in small local tournaments around Minnesota on the weekends and be a part of one of the local bass fishing clubs.  It was here that he met a group of guys that had the same passion as him.  They all just wanted to go fishing and learn the skills needed to really hone in on those bass.  I didn’t mind one bit.  I’m a homebody in every sense of the word and can generally always find something to do to fill my time.  Plus, this was only taking up about one or two weekends a month and I didn’t mind having some time to myself to do whatever I wanted.  Win-win, right? 

As time went on and he felt more confident in his skills, he started competing in some of the larger tournament circuits around the state as well as the Bassmaster Weekend Series which had a Midwest division.  I should mention that up until this point, the majority of his tournaments thus far were team tournaments as opposed to individual ones.  Meaning the outcome of the day was a group effort as opposed to him being able to call it an individual feat.  It was also around this time that I realized that he had talents beyond those of your average angler.  I knew he was a good fisherman, but I guess I didn’t understand the scope of how successful one can become in this industry.  One tournament in particular that took place on the Mississippi River out of Wisconsin I can remember vividly how I got lost on the way to the weigh in.  Some of our family was coming down for support and I knew that he was in one of the first flights that morning so he would be one of the first to weigh in.  I got the car parked and hauled ass down to the stage to catch him walking up with his bag.  Just in time!  I don’t recall the particulars of what his bag weighed, but as the other anglers came to the stage, nobody had a bigger bag then him.  He ended up taking his first 1st place win that day and it was his first win that he could claim as his own without the help of a partner.  We were both elated and I was so happy that our family was there to be a part of it, mainly because it gave me peace of mind that they were starting to see that this may not be a pipe dream after all.  I also think it’s safe to say that this tournament solidified for both of us that he just may have what it takes to make it. 

Josh and I after his 1st place win on the Mississippi River
It was after this that he started setting his sights on bigger tournaments.  But doing bigger tournaments meant a larger financial investment as well as more time spent on the water.  Throughout our relationship we have both held steady full time employment.  Me with my 9-5 job and him working nights and weekends as a bartender.   When you do the math in that schedule, you’ll find that there was already very little time for us to spend together and taking the next step meant that me being a fisherman’s widow would be in full effect. In my job I get steady pay and vacation time.  If Josh didn’t work, he didn’t get paid.  The upside to this was that he could take off as much time as he wanted as long as he could get his shifts covered.  After a while, the financial impact of his career choice was all too apparent.  We were racking up credit card debt like nobody’s business.  Thankfully we were never in a position where bills weren’t getting paid, but the amount of outstanding debt we were incurring was taking it’s toll.  I should also mention that I had a large hand in this.  It wasn’t him alone contributing to our little debt issues.  What can I say, I have a problem walking away from a good sale!!  Since we already had so much invested in his dream career, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that moving forward was not an option. 

Camping before a tournament
With this new revelation, it was time to see what could be done about securing some sponsorships for him to help ease the financial burden we were facing.  No angler can start this process thinking that they will automatically get paid to fish.  You have to start small, you have to prove yourself.  He would take on sponsors and he would get wholesale pricing or some sort of discount on products.  Eventually with time, this would lead to getting an annual stipend with companies to spend on their product and if you went over that amount you had to open your wallet to cover the rest.  Almost immediately, things started getting better.  It’s amazing how all of his little tackle orders he used to make would add up and when he started taking on sponsors those would diminish. 

Another talent that my husband has is writing.  He found various outlets to discuss different facets of fishing.  Whether it be though his blog, the local newspaper, or even when Bass Angler Magazine wanted him to start contributing articles to each issue.  These were all excellent platforms for him to get his name out in the industry and start getting noticed.  Eventually, we both bit the bullet and got involved with social media.  We had both been so private about our lives that it was difficult to put everything out there, good or bad.  In the end, social media has by far been one of the best ways to get his name out there and get noticed.  So much so that over time after we officially made Josh Douglas Fishing a business and we no longer had to contribute our personal earnings to the cause because his company could finally sustain itself.  That was a great feeling.  For me, it was what I needed in order to know that all the sacrifices we had made, financially and time-wise was actually starting to pay off. 

I have always been supportive of his career choice but it was around this time that I started to step up my game as his wife and start investing myself in his career as well.   With this, however, meant taking on the emotional roller coaster that comes with tournament bass fishing, instead of just giving him the supportive comments before a derby.   A pivotal moment for us came shortly after this decision was made.  We were at one of his tournaments and he was having an excellent practice.  I was in the boat with him for most of it and saw firsthand what he was working with.  The night before he was so confident that he was going catch a large bag, that he had me so giddy with excitement with him.  The next day came and he finished low in the points.  In my head, I was telling myself that I needed to be his support system right now and the last thing he needed was to hear was my negative attitude of how the day went.  Unfortunately, I’m not always the best at conveying my feelings, and instead of offering words of encouragement, I gave him the silent treatment and ultimately told him how much he let me down.  Wrong move.  My heart hurt for him.  I was disappointed for him, not in him and that’s not how I came off.  We ended up getting into a huge argument and he left the tournament with a badly bruised ego.  Not from how he placed in the tournament, but from my actions afterward.  I felt and still do feel terrible about how that day transpired.  I know deep down, that he still carries that day with him as well.  It was from then on I realized that going forward, I could no longer allow myself to get so emotionally attached in his performance.  I would support him, I would cheer for him, I would be his sounding board when he needed it, and I would curse the fish gods with him when they weren’t biting but I could no longer get as hyped up as he does about a tournament, because at the end of the day we are two different people who handle situations differently and I never want to see that side of myself again.

After Josh's win for the NABC on Lake Minnetonka
We came to a point in 2012 where we needed to start making some decisions about our future.  We could continue down the path we were currently going or we could take things to the next level.  Naturally, we wanted to get to the next level.  We packed up all of our stuff and made the move to Chattanooga, TN.  Having Lake Chickamauga be our new stomping grounds was icing on the cake and we made the move in September of that year.  

It was decided before we went that if we were going to do this that we both had to be all in.  That meant me working and supporting the household while he focused solely on fishing.  The year and a half that followed was by far the most difficult time in our relationship.  Shortly after the move, Josh was contacted by one of his sponsors to be a independent contractor who would visit sporting goods stores around the south and Midwest.  With this, however, was an additional time commitment.  He has to leave a few days before he normally would for his tournament to accommodate for the store visits he would now have to make.  Tack these few days onto the additional 2 weeks he allows himself to pre-fish multiplied by at least 9 tournaments a year in addition to any shows or expos that his sponsors require him to work and you’ll find that he was barely home.  I was able to find a job that I loved but was not allowed any vacation time for my first 12 months of employment.  Traveling is one of my favorite things to do and this was coming to a screeching halt.  I found myself feeling chained to my house.  Like I said earlier, I am a homebody by nature, but even this was testing my limits.  After a year and a half, we realized that even though we were living closer to the action, for the amount of time that he was away, it really didn’t matter where we lived.  I missed our family and friends so in February of 2013 we bit the bullet and moved back to Minnesota.  You’ll never hear me say that I regret making the move down south.  If we had never done it, we would still be wondering “what if”.  I met some truly wonderful people in the process and discovered my love of southern food.  Dare I mention that I moved back with an additional 15 lbs to my mid-section?  Don’t worry, it’s gone now but it sure was fun getting there! 

In the year and a half that we have been back, Josh’s career has only gained momentum and he has had some wonderful opportunities come his way.  He is still gone a lot, but I was able to get my old job back that came with 4 weeks of vacation.  Whoo-hoo!  We are finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and the potential of what our future can hold.  To some, it may seem like we are living his dream but in reality, we are living our dream.  My part in this is paying off and in the very near future, my dreams will be coming true too.  Still can’t chat about that part yet though, sorry.

Well, this sure turned into a bit of a novel, but the moral of the story is that the fisherman widows of the world are a tough bunch of bitches who will do anything to see their loved ones succeed no matter what the cost.  They are just as committed as their husbands and their roll in the world of fishing is not one to be swept under the rug. 

Thank you to everyone who made it to the end of this post!  You’re truly appreciated.