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Written by Paul Strege   
Sunday, 24 April 2011 21:00
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Joe to Pro: Brent Ehrler
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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.”


Last Updated on Sunday, 24 April 2011 21:15
 

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