The Battle at Brunswick- What’s Next for Me

So after spending several weeks back here in Brunswick, Georgia guiding clients and spending time with my family, I’ve had the opportunity to back up and look at the big picture. There are several factors that have come into play, some of which I will go into great detail about, and others that I will briefly mention, if at all, to be fair to others involved. I’m writing this with a bit of a chip on my shoulder so if something seems a bit blunt, you’ll understand my tone.

How Important is Tournament Fishing to Me?

Fun? Yes. Interesting? Yes. Important? No.

Something you might not know about me.

A lot of people that read along with my fishing reports and blog posts or come here to fish with me may not know that when I’m not a fishing guide I spend the rest of my time as a firefighter. I don’t put that information out there because some people seem to think that if you have a second job, you’re less of a guide. I became a firefighter AFTER I became a fishing guide for several reasons.

One is that I’ve always felt like we are called to use our lives to serve other people and not just ourselves. While fishing might bring some momentary joy into someone’s life, at the end of the day, it’s trivial. We can try and make it seem otherwise, but in the end it isn’t the best way to impact the lives of others in any meaningful way. Being a firefighter gives me the opportunity to be there for people during their worst moments. When their house burns down. When a loved one passes. When their daughter is trapped in a car. In fact my bucket list is three items long;

  1. Be a good husband.
  2. Be a good father.
  3. Impact someone’s life in a profound way.

There are other reasons ranging from the financial reasons and on to the fact that it’s just nice to get a break from being on the water. I know that many of you might think I’m crazy for thinking that I “need a break” from the water, but I do. I think in the long run it makes me a better guide. It makes it easier to get to the boat in the morning and have a smile on my face.

In the end, for those that think I’m less of a guide because I’m also a fireman, I’ll say this. I still spend more time on the water and run more trips than 95% of the guides that are out there. I fear no guide when it comes to whether or not I can put my clients on fish, day in and day out.

I said all of that to get to this; I am strongly considering continuing my education to be a Paramedic. I want to be able to provide the most help I can for people and have the greatest chance I can to impact someone’s life in a profound way.

Working backwards through my bucket list…

I think of what I spend in terms of time and money on tournaments and what it would do if it was spent on my children. Jackson is 4 and just starting to take an interest in fishing. I’m sure that my one year old, Ethan, will do just the same. They already have to deal with the fact that there are a couple hundred days a year that I have to take other people fishing and I want to make sure that they have their share of my days. There are only so many days I have left of being “daddy” before I become just “dad”. I want to share as many of those days as I can with them.

Dave Ramsey says that in every marriage there is the disciplined one and the free spirit. In our marriage, I’m the free spirit. Katie is the level headed rock of our household. She puts herself in third place every day behind me and our sons. She handles all of the hard work in our house from changing diapers to taking the trash out so that I can work 7 days a week. When I leave for tournaments I’m not even there to help get the boys to bed. I know she wants to see New York City among other places. I know I’ve told her that I don’t have time. I know she’s told me that it’s expensive (there she goes being the disciplined one again). Yet, I bee bop down I-10 several times this year dropping around $20,000 to try to prove to a bunch of people that don’t even care that I’m a good fisherman. Priorities backwards? You betcha.

Sponsors…

I have a hard time asking potential sponsors for money. Part of the reason is that I have to be able to see the math in my head adding up for them somehow. For my one and only cash sponsor, I can see how it makes sense. They are getting some tangible returns for their investment.

However, for someone to pay me to wear a patch in a few tournaments a year, I don’t see the point. I don’t believe for a second that anyone will buy a boat just because I win a tournament in it. I don’t think most people give a rats %$& about watching a fishing show, much less paying any attention to what myself or anyone else is peddling. $20,000 a year is a lot of money to raise and I don’t see the benefit to the sponsors. There is enough fish porn and shameless promotion on YouTube to supply everyone for a million years. There is no reason for a sponsor to give me anything just to mention them on stage at a weigh in.

The value in me for a sponsor is in the influence I have with people that follow me. The nearly 1,000 people that voluntarily sign up for my email list. The 5,000 to 7,000 hits each month on my blog. Those people, more than likely the very people that are reading this, are what I bring to the table. They come from years of TRUST BUILDING through solid, reliable, and useful information. I’ve never raved about a product that I didn’t truly believe in and I never will for any amount of money. 1,000 trusting fans are worth more than a million casual observers, and my integrity is not for sale.

The thing is, if I sell my time to a sponsor and agree to work shows and go here and there, it doesn’t make sense to do it for a couple thousand bucks. I can stay home, guide clients, promote my own business, and have the same amount of money at the end. Most sponsors aren’t spending the kind of money that it would take for it to make financial sense to me. I’m happy to work for sponsors, but it has to be a mutually beneficial relationship and it has to be something that I believe in.

Other Options

There are other ways for me to reach my goals and get to where I want to go in the industry. With more time and budget flexibility I can pursue what I really enjoy; writing about fishing. I tend to slop some words together and get the point across quickly on this blog, but when I set my mind to it, I think I can write a little. I imagine being able to take my sons to the places that I want to write about and sharing the experience with them.

I also believe that the internet will blow the doors off of TV advertising. Why? It’s evergreen and lazer focused. An advertisement in a video or a mention in a blog post is there forever, not just for the 30 seconds that you were away from the TV getting your popcorn out of the microwave during a commercial break. On top of that, when people see it, it’s probably because they intentionally sought out the information. I think I’ll focus my attention there.

To Get to the Point…

I’ve decided not to fish the Elite Series next year. If you’ve been reading along you’re probably wondering about all the smack I talked about how I was going to prove that you can make a living as a Redfish angler. I can sum it up in two sentences: 1- I changed my mind. 2- Lance Reynolds already proved it.

Now hold on just a second! I didn’t say that I would quit tournaments altogether. I’m sure I’ll fish some IFA events and I might even come see the guys at an elite event. But I’m not going to piss away time that belongs to my family and money that I’ve worked too hard for.

There are some other reasons that I won’t mention but the bottom line is that I was a professional angler before there was an elite series and I’ll be one after it’s gone. I’ll be writing about the truth of fishing no matter what happens. I don’t need any tournament to validate me. I’ve got more salt in my t-shirt than most people have in their whole sea bag (that’s a Navy reference) :).

So…

I’ll be doing what I hope most people do. Taking fishing off of the pedestal that it’s been on in my life and doing the best I can to be a better father and husband. I hope that I’m able to stay the course and impact someone’s life in a profound way as well.

I’ll still be fishing, writing about fishing, making videos about fishing, taking clients fishing, dreaming about fishing, and doing everything that I’ve always done. I’m just putting the important things ahead of fishing for a change.

Stay tuned…

TJ

 

 

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TJ Cheek
TJ Cheek is a professional angler and fishing guide. Traveling from the east coast to as far as Texas, TJ represents the sport of saltwater fishing in all forms of media from print to video. TJ is also the Southeast Regional Director for the Recreational Fishing Alliance.
Posted in Blog, Just Talking, Tournament News, Uncategorized.

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