The Pro Gig: A win-win for anglers and equipment makers
5/2/2022

It’s an easy guess that a lot of fishermen occasionally fantasize about living the life of a professional angler. After all, what’s not to like about doing what you love and getting paid for it, often handsomely? And, oh yeah, raking in pricey swag from a long list of boat, gear, engine and electronics manufacturers. The folks at Marine Electronics Journal wanted to know more about how all of this works, so we asked a veteran marine journalist who spends a lot of time wetting hooks and writing about fishing to make some calls. Here’s what we learned:

By Lenny Rudow

You’ve seen them at the fishing tournaments, boat shows, and new product demos— big, flashy new boats with eye-grabbing wraps, powered to the absolute max and being run by guys and gals with big, toothy grins. And no wonder they’re grinning. Who wouldn’t be totally stoked to live the life of a professional angler?

One of the lynchpins of modern marketing in the world of marine electronics is having your own pros. They’re splashed across the pages of magazines, popping up on Facebook, and flooding the Instagram feeds at any given moment. But in truth the manufacturer-pro relationship goes well beyond mere marketing. Sure, these tournament anglers, charter captains, and guides are "brand ambassadors.” But they also do a lot more for the electronics companies—and for the everyday anglers who own their own fishing boats as well.

Gathering Intel

A role that all of the pros we talked with pointed to as critically important was testing new gear and new systems, then providing feedback to the manufacturer. In many cases, it’s also a part of the relationship that the manufacturers talk about first and foremost.

"Working alongside our brand ambassadors is a great way to get real-world feedback on products and features that make boating and fishing easier and more productive,” says Jeff Kauzlaric, Advertising and Communications Manager for Furuno USA. "Most of our brand ambassadors are on the water over 200 days a year, so who better to talk to about how Furuno products and features will make life on the water better for anyone using them? We value their thoughts and input on how we can continue to be innovative.”

When we spoke to Furuno pro Captain Jack Carlson of Two Conchs Sportfishing, he made it clear that this aspect of the relationship was part of what convinced him that he wanted to fly the Furuno banner.

"I love their gear, I’ve been using it for a long time and that’s what brought me to Furuno in the first place,” Carlson says. "But they don’t just ask for feedback, they work aggressively to use it in improving their products. I know my time and effort are actually accomplishing something, and I know they’re putting in the time and effort on their end to make it pay off.”

As an example, Carlson points to Furuno’s new Fish It and Drift It feature for the NavNet TZtouch3 system. First, an angler creates a Fish It waypoint where they want to fish by tapping on the MFD screen. Then when the angler activates Drift It, the unit calculates a starting point for three, five, or up to 20-minute drifts that will take them to the waypoint. That eliminates all the guesswork usually associated with positioning your boat upwind and/or up current of a hotspot, then hoping you’ll drift across it. And it’s not anything that Furuno asked for—it’s something that Carlson realized would be helpful to anglers, and Furuno adopted his suggestion.

"Now my system tells me exactly where to go to set up for a drift,” Carlson says. "I know how long it will take me to get to drift to the wreck or structure, so I also know how long I have to get a kite spread set up or get all my baits right. Or if I want to anchor it tells me just where to position the boat, so I only have to drop the anchor once. And all this takes just a couple of taps on the screen.”

Tim Gray, Captain of the Beeracuda Fishing Team and a Garmin ambassador, says that like many pros he works with boat manufacturers as well as electronics companies and constantly updates his boats. This automatically means regularly updating to the latest electronics. Yet even with the rapid turnover, he says he’s seen similarly fast and direct responses to his input.

"When Garmin first came out with BlueChart g3 is a great example,” he says. "Coverage in our specific area was light. When we told them that, they quickly expanded it.”

Garmin’s Senior Director of Marine Sales, Dave Dunn, sees things the same way. "Our pros are just like professionals in any sport or industry,” he says. "They’re experts in their craft, and have the firsthand experience using our technology for countless hours on the water. Their feedback is a crucial part of our product innovation and ongoing improvements and we’re incredibly grateful to have their knowledge and opinions to assist refining our technology for anglers of every kind.”

Raymarine pro Mike Deto of Daybreaker Offshore Charters says that Raymarine has an entire process established for generating feedback and then using it to improve their electronics. "Every week I get an email,” he says. "It tells me what the latest software updates are, goes over what’s being tested and what needs to be tested, and gives me a link to provide feedback. I might be using multiple products all at the same time. I submit my reports for them, and a week later I’ll find out about tweaks and little changes they’ve made. Then the next week I get a new email.”

But this direct input is only part of the ongoing process. "We have Zoom meetings, too,” Deto says. "We’ll all bounce around new ideas for different products, ways to improve existing products, and discuss what’s already been implemented. That’s one of the things I really enjoy. I like the Raymarine people. I enjoy working with them and establishing relationships. Most customers never get to talk with these people. They might call tech support and that’s it, but I get to work with the staff in house and that’s a real pleasure.”

Gordon Sprouse, Simrad’s Marketing Director of the Americas, points out that many of their relationships with pros date back for years and some of the charter captains they work with know the gear intimately. "Many started years ago with the Lowrance and Simrad brands before Navico was formed,” he says. "Those relationships are critical to product development and awareness. With strict confidence as part of the arrangement, many charter captains serve as validators for products in the development phase before they are released to the public.

"We find the typical use-case among charter captains in the Americas fully evaluates a marine electronics system with all the networking options, including sounder module, autopilot, radar, AIS (Automatic Identification System), SiriusXM weather and radio, digital switching, engine integration and more. Of course, charter captains are also critical for a successful product launch—not only for their role as early adopters and opinion leaders, but also to support important ongoing lifestyle and how-to videos that create greater levels of awareness and instructional content.”

Next week: The payback for anglers: better gear


About the author

Lenny Rudow has been a boating writer for more than 20 years. He writes regularly for several marine publications and websites, including BoatUS, Texas Fish & Game, and boats.com. Lenny owns Marine Editorial Services and FishTalkMag.com based in Edgewater, MD, and is past president and a current board member of Boating Writers International.

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