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Membership has its privileges

by National Professional Anglers Association 4 Jun 16:24 UTC
Bassmaster Classic © B.A.S.S.

Ask any serious angler about the National Professional Anglers Association (NPAA) and you still might get some head-scratching, despite the fact that top finishers in the last two Bassmaster Classics - and the past two champions - are members of the organization.

What is the NPAA?

The NPAA organization helps tournament anglers, guides, charter captains, fishing industry folks, and other aspiring anglers turn their "Passion into Profession."

The NPAA also provides resources, conferences, networking opportunities, and frequent member-only media content that helps members grow in their careers to exemplify NPAA's core tenets of determination, commitment to the sport, focus on professionalism, and ethics.

Lastly - in this world of rampant inflation - NPAA members have access to discounts on key fishing/marine manufacturers' products, with or without official sponsorship. The cost of membership starts at a mere $50 a year for Student Anglers, with Pro Members shelling out just $100 annually. The money you can potentially save on fishing necessities is worth the price alone. Why wouldn't you join?

Justin Hamner, 2024 Bassmaster Classic Champ on his recent win and NPAA

Former cement worker and landscaper, Justin Hamner, paid his dues—literally—the hard way to become the 2024 Bassmaster Classic Champ. The Tuscaloosa, Alabama native obviously knows how to catch fish, and says his recent onboarding with NPAA will be invaluable for furthering his career and giving him the knowledge needed to turn his passion into a profession.

"I was sleeping in a tent and eating peanut butter sandwiches to make ends meet and follow my dream. Fishing professionally isn't cheap. Amounts to about $65,000 to $70,000 a year in expenses and sponsors don't cover everything. I've been paying out of pocket, too, and cutting grass and working concrete made it hard, but the NPAA helped me learn how to work with sponsors, plus a whole lot more about making this thing a business," says Hamner.

"Rookie—'big eyes' I call him—Kyle Patrick, told me I had to join NPAA and was really excited about the organization. I took his advice and it really helped a lot. For me, the biggest thing is NPAA helps you build relationships with industry people. And NPAA really has your back in everything fishing. My big thing is what they're doing with state and federal government, too. I'm a big conservation guy. I wish I had known about NPAA sooner," continues Hamner.

Back to relationships, Hamner has support from American Baitworks (Halo Rods, Net Bait, BaitFuel); The Bait Tank; Yo-Zuri; and runs a Falcon boat with Yamaha outboard.

Gussy reflects on Hamner's classic win and Rasmussen's runner up finish

"It's great to see that 1st and 2nd place at the Classic this year are fellow NPAA guys," says 2023 Bassmaster Classic Champion, Jeff "Gussy" Gustafson. "We all believe in what the group is doing. As far as winning, for Hamner, it's going to be life changing. It's the tournament you want to win in this sport."

"And for Adam Rasmussen, to come out of nowhere and make a great run at it was impressive. It just goes to show the talent that is out there in the Opens. I'm sure we'll see Adam fishing the Elite Series sooner or later."

Gussy talks membership privileges

Gussy says the first thing prospective members need to consider is just how hard NPAA staff works to offer real-world resources to aspiring tournament anglers, guides, and other serious fishing enthusiasts.

"Pat Neu, our NPAA President, works his tail off, and we all appreciate that. The whole crew does," states Gussy. "They do a lot to help organization members turn their passions into a sustainable job in fishing."

Gustafson was 40 when he won the 2023 Bassmaster Classic, and had made friends with many fishing industry folks since beginning to fish as a youth, but he says NPAA was crucial in not only strengthening ties to others making a living fishing, but also introducing him to new industry contacts, many of which have become close friends.

"As far as the NPAA network goes, you get access to a vast network of people in the fishing community all in one place, which is great, from the advice of other pros to contacts with potential sponsors. And, as far as the fishing companies go, membership gets you some good deals on just about every bit of equipment you could ever need. If there's something that you're looking to get a deal on, you can probably find it on that NPAA sponsor list," continues Gussy.

Gussy is emphatic that emerging anglers fishing on high school and college teams need to look closely at the NPAA to develop their future careers in the sport. "NPAA gives you access to years and years of experience that can get you on the right track. Personally, I've been able to ask a lot of successful anglers' questions through my ties to NPAA, without these ties I might not have known how to contact and interact with the right people. That's invaluable to young anglers."

Lastly, Gussy says the NPAA is good about sending out relevant, important information through newsletters he "actually reads" - and from an educational standpoint he says "you get access to a lot of great content."

Rasmussen on NPAA-driven success

A fishing guide since high school, 2nd Place Classic finisher this year, Adam Rasmussen, knew early on he wanted to make a living in the fishing industry, working as both a guide and charter captain, as well as tournament walleye fishing early in his career. Today Adam continues to guide and chase his cream of fishing the Elites by competing in the Bassmaster EQ Series.

Regarding his second-place finish, he says he was biting his fingernails, hoping for the pole position. Still, he's happy for Hamner winning the event.

"Justin was nervous as we sat and waited 'til the end to weigh in. He rode to my boat and said, 'I gotta know, what did you get today?' I told him what I had, and we both knew how it was going to go down at the end. Neither one of us could handle the stress of waiting."

2024 Bassmaster Classic champ, Justin Hamner, interjects (and laughs): "All I could think of when Adam told me what he caught was 'Please don't let this guy be a liar. I knew I had about six pounds on him, so I was good."

Rasmussen continues: "I really wish it was me up there, but when it's your time, it's your time. Obviously, it was Justin's time. Now I patiently wait for my time."

With regards to the impact NPAA has had on his career, Rasmussen concludes: "The NPAA has been there with its network of people who've helped me along the way. That's what it's there for—to help anglers. It's amazing that it happened to me in such a short period of time—qualifying to fish a Classic. I received a lot of good advice from some of the top anglers in the country through the NPAA and I gained access to a lot of other information. The NPAA can also help aspiring or veteran guides or tournament anglers be successful."

NPAA Director on recent NPAA top finishes

"We couldn't be prouder that Gussy took top honors in the 2023 Classic; and that 2024 Classic Winner, Justin Hamner, has now joined our ranks; add to that five of the other top 12 2024 Classic finishers are all NPAA members," stated NPAA President, Pat Neu.

"This says a lot about our organization and our member-anglers who are reaching the top of their strong game because they've learned how to treat angling as a business. Just what are the odds that among 60- to 70,000 tournament anglers in this country who would have loved to fish the 2024 Bassmaster Classic, seven NPAA members qualified and four finished in the Top 10 - now 5 with Justin Hamner joining our ranks," continued Neu.

"This is just an example of how NPAA member anglers take angling seriously; this success gives us great motivation to continue to grow the organization and its resources to assist other aspiring professional anglers meet their goals on and off the water. Any angler serious about creating a career out of their passion for angling should look at the successes of our members and take a step toward solidifying their success as an angling professional by joining NPAA today!" concludes Neu.

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