Cubs fan and a bass man
Last week I wrote about the importance of working with local media if you’re an aspiring fishing professional. The photo we used to support that column showed Louie Stout photographing me at the Strike King writers’ conference. My relationship with Louie has been a long and productive one. We started out as bass pro and outdoor writer, but after more than 25 years we’re friends and business partners. It just goes to show you how building those industry relationships can impact your career and even your life.
I think Louie and I met at the 1991 Bassmaster Classic. It was my first Classic, and Louie was there as a Bassmaster Magazine and B.A.S.S. Times writer and also as the outdoor writer for the South Bend, Ind., newspaper.
If you’re 30 years old or younger, you may not remember a world without the Internet or GoPros. Things were different then. There has always been a lot of media at the Classic, but back then it was mostly newspaper reporters with some magazine writers and a few TV reporters. Today it’s mostly web media.
Because Louie lived in Indiana and I was in Michigan — just an hour and a half away — it made sense that we do some stories together. In retrospect, I was a pretty unusual commodity for the time. I was young (most pros hit the circuit in their 30s or 40s back then), from the North and having some success. Media people naturally gravitate to the new and different, and I was both.
Louie was gaining a national reputation as a fishing writer. We’d get together, do a little fishing and photography and then do interviews. Louie would turn that into stories for newspapers and magazines. It helped my career tremendously, and I hope I’ve been just as good for his career.
In 1994, he came to me with the idea of writing a book on bass fishing. Books on fishing have never been huge sellers, but we decided to try it and to publish it ourselves. I’d record my thoughts while driving to and from tournaments, and Louie would draft and refine the chapters. He also took the photos. We hired people to design the book and lay it out. We didn’t know if they’d sell, but we took a chance and had 5,000 printed.
Well, that book (Kevin VanDam’s Bass Strategies) did so well for us that we published another (Secrets of a Champion) in 2002 and then revised the first book in 2010. We’re not on The New York Times Best Sellers list or anything like that, but we’ve sold a bunch of books and had fun doing it. Hopefully, they’ve helped people catch a lot of bass.
Through the years, Louie has taught me a lot about working with the media. I learned that outdoor writers have deadlines, too, and that returning a call quickly can mean the difference between being featured in a major story and not being a part of the story at all.
I also learned that outdoor writers have a much tougher job than I first realized. I thought they got to go fishing a lot until I realized that they’re not making money when they’re fishing. They make money when they’re writing and selling stories and photos. Just like tournament pros are judged when their catch hits the scales, outdoor writers are judged when their work is on an editor’s desk. I learned that by making the writer’s job easier, I contribute to making a better story about me and my sponsors.
Over the years, Louie and I have worked so much together and know each other so well that we can communicate without saying a whole lot. He understands the way I work and vice versa.
Because he’s a fisherman, Louie knows how to get to the nuts and bolts of a fishing technique, and he always asks the questions that serious anglers want answered. I enjoy reading all the stories he writes — not just the ones involving me — because he has the details I want to know when learning something new.
Over the past 25 years, Louie and I have become close friends. I’ve always admired him professionally, but I also admire him as a person and enjoy spending time with him. Our relationship is more than just fishing and business.
I was thrilled for him when the Chicago Cubs broke their 108-year run without a World Series championship. (I’m a Detroit Tigers fan.) Unfortunately, I can’t give him a hard time about baseball anymore.
But I can still tease him about bass fishing. As an angler, Louie is one of the most stubborn people I’ve ever met. He’s very “old school” and set in his ways. Since he works with lots of top-notch anglers, he has access to all the latest methods, but at heart he’s still a “dragger” — always falling back on jigs and finesse worm rigs.
It was tough for Louie to transition from a typewriter to a computer, tough to go from film to digital and tough to adapt to the latest fishing electronics. He writes lots of stories about the newest techniques, but he sticks to his tried and true. He’ll throw a topwater or lipless crankbait for a little while, but if he doesn’t get instant results he’s right back to dragging.
Louie fishes a lot of small team tournaments. They call them “pot” tournaments or “fruit jar” tournaments depending on where you live. A lot of times he’ll call me up beforehand, tell me about the conditions and ask for some advice. Every once in a while — but not often — he’ll call me back the next day and tell me he won.
His partner must be good!
Remember, it’s all about the attitude!