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Joe to Pro: Brent Ehrler | Print |  Email
Written by Paul Strege   
Sunday, 24 April 2011 21:00
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Joe to Pro: Brent Ehrler
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Every angler has a story… When Lorraine Ehrler started to read from the pages of a bass fishing magazine to her 6 year-old son, she had no idea of the future implications. The Ehrler family was traveling in their motor home to Lake Havasu, Arizona, when young Brent handed his mom the magazine and made the request. By the end of the trip, he had learned how to Texas-rig a plastic worm. Upon arriving at the lake, he raced down to the marina dock to drop his proud creation into the water. He watched in awe as a largemouth bass quickly swam over and engulfed the lure. It was the first bass of his life – and the prologue to an amazing career.

Tauber’s Tutelage
Six years later, Brent registered for the Bassmaster University course given to him as a birthday gift from his parents. The seminar presenters, Jimmy Houston, Don Iovino, and Rich Tabuer, discussed fishing patterns and specific techniques to catch bass in a wide range of situations. The following year, Brent and his father booked a guide trip with Rich Tauber on Lake Castaic. Although he failed to catch a bass during the outing, he absorbed everything shared by Rich throughout the day. The boat, the electric trolling motor, the species-specific lures – all the nuances of professional bass fishing – made an everlasting impression. He immediately fell in love with the sport. Brent’s father recognized his son’s keen interest in bass fishing and nurtured it by hiring Rich for additional outings.

Brent recalls, “We hired Rich for two more trips after that. He was such a nice guy, and I really looked up to him. I could call and ask him questions about lures and other things, and he always had the time to talk fishing with me.”

Rich also encouraged Brent to join his club, the Point Seekers Bass Club of Riverside, California. But at the age of fifteen, he was too young to participate in formal club activities and could not join.

“That was about the time when other things got in the way: girls, school, and just being a teenager. So, I didn’t really consider joining again until I was in college.”

Upon graduating from Loma Linda Academy, Brent enrolled in La Sierra University and finally became an official Point Seekers member. For his first club season, Brent fished from the back deck of other members’ boats. By the following year, he enjoyed organized bass fishing so much that he desperately wanted to purchase a boat of his own. Brent, however, lacked the savings.

“I was very fortunate in that my parents set aside money for me and my brother to help pay for college. They started the fund shortly after we were born. I think my dad realized that I wasn’t going to be a doctor or anything like that, so he used some of it to help me buy a boat.”

Brent bought his first boat, a used Champion, in 1998. The purchase enabled him to compete as a boater in club tourneys. That year, he also decided to enter the WON Bass Pro-Am circuit as an amateur (AAA). Fishing two levels of tournaments allowed Brent to gain invaluable experience at an accelerated pace. He was essentially living the life of a semi-professional angler.

After just two seasons at the AAA level, Brent qualified for and won the 1999 WON Bass Classic. His victory on Lake Cachuma awarded him with a top prize of a fully-rigged Ranger bass boat.

“Back then, a couple of the local pros like Pat Donohoe, Dave Greibe, and Greg Heinz were winning boats, but that was just a crazy dream for me. I remember thinking, ‘I’d love to win a boat someday. That would be awesome.’ And, it happened! It was just amazing to win a tournament, with or without a boat. I was borrowing money from my brother so I could get into these tournaments to fish, and then I won a boat!”

After winning, Brent elected to keep his Champion and sell his new Ranger. With the money he earned from the sale, he paid for basic living expenses and saved the rest for future tournament entry fees. Even after notching his first high-profile victory, the thought of turning professional had yet to become a serious consideration.

“Probably in the back of my mind, I wanted to turn Pro, but I was realistic about it. I wasn’t expecting to make a living or support a family through fishing tournaments. It was something that I was going to do as a hobby – really, an excuse for me to fish a lot. I just wanted to cover my expenses and make a little bit on top of that.”

The Minor Leagues
For his third season in 2000, Brent decided to compete in the professional divisions of both WON Bass and the newly-formed B.A.S.S. Western Invitational circuit. He was competing at the highest level on the West Coast. Brent won Rookie of the Year in WON Bass that season by finishing 4th overall in the standings. In March 2002, he placed 2nd in the B.A.S.S. Western Invitational on Lake Mead. At the time, the runner-up finish included a Triton bass boat – the second prize boat of his career. Despite the growing temptation to abandon his education and commit even greater amounts of time to fishing, Brent remained in college to earn his business marketing degree.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do, but at the time I was thinking about getting a job within fishing and competing on the side. That was my game plan. I really enjoyed fishing, so I just hoped that I would eventually find a job within the industry.”

Without solid business connections, Brent settled for a position within residential home construction. He started working with his father-in-law, a general contractor, in 2003. Together, they managed spec home, custom home, and remodeling construction projects. Brent focused on remodels while his father-in-law supervised other project types.

“It actually was a great job because it provided me with enough freedom to take extended time off for tournaments. My father-in-law ran everything in the background when I was gone, too. I was making some side money bass fishing, but not enough to pay all the bills. The job helped me to pay those and to fund my hobby.”

Although B.A.S.S. would eventually eliminate the Western Invitationals in 2003, FLW Outdoors quickly filled the void by expanding the Stren Series to include a new Western Division. In the four-tournament circuit, Brent finished 3rd three times and 40th in another, en route to winning Angler of the Year. He qualified for the Stren Series Championship and finished 31st.

The following season, Brent nearly duplicated his first year performance. He finished 3rd in points and qualified for his second consecutive championship, held on Lake Cumberland in Kentucky. Despite his limited experience fishing out east, Brent captured the championship crown – at the time, the highest honor in bass fishing’s minor leagues.

“Really, that was the turning point for me. I started thinking that I should fish the FLW Tour back east. My expectation was that I would make my money in construction, and then would eventually try and fish the tour. I just didn’t expect for the opportunity to come up when it did. I feared that if I never tried to fish nationally, I would always regret it.”

“Yeah, let’s do it!”
Brent already had the unconditional support of his wife, Kelley, whom he wed in 2005, but still lacked the financial backing essential to a professional run. As a result, he let the decision of whether to fish or not be determined by the interest of potential sponsors. If pledged support covered entry fees, he would commit to the tour. Brent first turned to his longtime sponsor, Lucky Craft, and its President, Minoru Segawa.

“I had been working with Lucky Craft for a while, so I went to Minoru and asked, ‘Hey, I really want to fish nationally. Can you help me?’ At the time, I didn’t really think of the ramifications of him saying yes or no. It was kind of one of those out-of-body experiences. When I asked the question, it was no big deal. But after I realized what I had just asked, I remember breaking out in a cold sweat and my heart starting to pound. Right there, that was the deciding moment that would determine if I would ever fish professionally or not… And I remember Minoru did not even hesitate in saying, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ Just like that! It was a crazy moment. I didn’t know what he was going to say. I told myself that I wouldn’t go on tour and lose all my money to fish. Being placed on Lucky Craft’s National Team gave me my one opportunity to do it.”

Brent’s association with Lucky Craft first developed through the WON Bass circuit early in his career. At the time, Minoru fished the AAA side while attending college to study American business. Brent and Minoru grew to become close friends on tour. A couple years later at an ICAST show, Brent reunited with Minoru, who invited him to serve as a fishing guide for several visiting Japanese anglers. The invitation also included the opportunity to become a part of the Lucky Craft Regional Team.

In 2005, Brent joined the FLW Tour, fishing out of a Lucky Craft-wrapped boat. For the first three tournaments of his freshman season, he finished 125th, 53rd, and 170th on Okeechobee, Toho, and the Ouachita River, respectively. Brent finished the season cashing just two checks.

“I was so green… I had absolutely no clue what I was getting into. I look back at those first tournaments and I can’t believe that I ever caught a bass. I was all over the place. I was overwhelmed – by the size of the lakes, the caliber of fishermen I was fishing against, the different waters – everything. I went from fishing western lakes to lakes like Okeechobee.”

Sophomore Success
After reflecting upon his past successes and failures, Brent made a conscientious effort to change his approach to fishing large, unfamiliar water for the subsequent season. The key, as he believed, lied within focusing on smaller sections.

“My first year, I would run all the way one direction and back the other direction a little while later, trying to cover as much water as possible. Instead of doing that, I tried to concentrate my time in smaller areas, closer together, that were easily fishable within a tournament day. What I tried to do was make a bigger lake a smaller lake.”

By season’s end in 2006, Brent had all but forgotten his disappointing rookie campaign. He finished the year in 40th place and qualified for his first FLW Championship. At Logan Martin Lake, Ehrler meticulously worked boat docks to entice summertime bass into biting. As the tournament unfolded, he improved upon each previous day’s catch. The unique 48-angler, bracket-style championship format paired him against Clifford Perch the first two days and Ramie Colson, Jr. on the third.

“After the second day, I remember thinking that I might be able to catch enough fish to advance on to the Top-12. I never thought I could win the tournament. I was thinking, ‘If I make the cut here and get some TV time, this is going to be really cool!’ Then, I went out and caught them good the third day. I remember saying to myself, ‘Man, this is just soooo cool!’ I didn’t really think that I had the fish to win – I just kind of thought that I had a chance to finish high.”

The momentum he gained by improving each day provided him with self-confidence entering the Top-12 fish-off. After recording a catch of 15 pounds, 1 ounce, Ehrler topped a virtual angling All-Star team consisting of: Clark Wendlandt, Jay Yelas, David Dudley, Anthony Gagliardi, and George Cochran.

Despite the immense joy and great sense of accomplishment, Brent questioned the timing of his surreal triumph.

“I asked, ‘Why did this happen now?’ By winning the Forrest Wood Cup my second year in, I felt like I had peaked. I was looking at a lot of the guys that had been out there 20-plus years and never won, feeling guilty. What was I going to look forward to after that? How could I top it? It shouldn’t have happened then. I just kind of felt like it was early on in my career, at a time when fishing still really wasn’t a career. Fishing was something I wanted to do, but not what I would consider my calling in life. I was doing it for fun and to make a little money. Things just happened so fast and I didn’t really know how to react.”

“Do it as a hobby.”
Brent’s approach of maintaining a career outside of fishing while in pursuit of success on tour alleviated much of the financial angst that many of his peers experienced in the infancy of their newfound professions. In all likelihood, that perspective played an important role in securing his FLW Tour Championship. Without significant financial burden, he focused solely on the fishing. Ironically, the “discouragement” he received from several respected western pros heavily influenced his chosen career path.

“People told me from the start, ‘Don’t do it as a job. Do it as a hobby.’ They actually discouraged me from considering fishing a serious career. It really was timely advice because it gave me a whole different outlook. If I had jumped into the sport headfirst, I would have gone into debt and never been able to get out. There were a lot of people that I knew that would spend a pile of money in a short time, trying to make their career happen. Then, they would disappear and you would never see or hear from them again.”

As his passionate hobby has since evolved into a very successful and lucrative career, Brent explains that the enjoyment he receives from fishing on tour is not without a cost.

“There is a lot of stress, and it is something at my age that can’t be healthy for me. You sit in your motel room at night, telling yourself that you are not catching them good enough, or you have to cash a check, or you have to please your sponsors... It is tough to experience that day-in and day-out. That is the part that I could do without. If there is something I can change about that someday, I will consider it. But for now, I love to tournament fish and I intend to do that for as long as I can.”

The National Guard Fishing Team
Despite the frequent worry, Brent notes that he has been blessed with many great opportunities from the sport that he loves. One of those arose in 2008, when he signed onto the National Guard Fishing Team.

“By the 2007 Forrest Wood Cup, I had become good friends with Sergeant O’ Laughlin who worked with the National Guard Fishing Team. I spoke with him quite a bit about joining the team after the championship that year, but I really wanted to stick with Lucky Craft as my title sponsor because they were the ones that helped me get to where I was at. I know that really struck a chord with him. Sergeant O’ Laughlin said that sticking with them was a true testament of my character. He really took a liking to it.”

With Lucky Craft’s concurrence, Brent became a member of the National Guard Fishing Team the next season, and has since learned that his affiliation means more than driving a decked-out, Stars-and-Stripes – dressed boat.

“I honestly could not think of another team to be on. The National Guard is such a great organization. I am humbled to be a part of it and representing all the men and women that are out there defending our country abroad and making life better for us back here. It really puts life into perspective for me.”

While Brent loves fishing as much as the next professional, he notes that his appreciation for the sport has matured to include the liberties that he is granted – ones defended by the servicemen and women of the National Guard. He continually strives to share that perspective with his fans, both young and old. And, somewhere across the country, there likely sits another young boy, flipping through the pages of a fishing magazine with a parent – from the same perspective that Brent once did.

Last Updated on Sunday, 24 April 2011 21:15

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