Joe Okada Follows His Pro Fishing Dream

Category: article

 Jul 8th, 2010 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Jul 8th, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Walleye First Tournament Series

“This is all I ever wanted to do,” Joe Okada said about his career in the pro fishing ranks.  At 28, he’s followed a plan since graduating from Oregon, Wisconsin, High School.

Joe with Tommy Skarlis at the 2010 Green Bay AIM

That course takes him on the road six months every year.  He worked through the MWC for five years, and has fished the FLW and now AIM, each for two seasons.  “I fished the MWC to compete against awesome anglers and to gain experience,” he said.  While on the MWC team circuit from 2004 to 2008, he fished the central division with his Dad, with the understanding that Joe would call all the shots and develop strategies for all situations.

Those first five years produced an extreme learning-curve, but the team made every Championship.  In 2008 and 2009, he entered the FLW pro ranks and qualified for Championships, even placing 10th at the 2008 Championship and fifth in the 2009 Angler of the Year standings.  He invested in the AIM circuit, and fished in 2009 and also this season.  The AIM results, “I was mediocre at first, but made the first Championship, and already this year I scored a 7th place finish on Saginaw Bay,” he said.

Will he achieve his goals by age 40?  With the work ethic and effort displayed so far, the chances are highly likely he will succeed.  His goals:

1.    “I want to make a move in this business.”

2.    “I might never get rich, but I will be happy.”

3.    “I want to be a household name by age 40.”

Joe with the FLW’s Sonny Reynolds

After High School, Joe set up shop as a guide on the Madison Chain of Lakes.  He
now guides two months every fall on Little Bay de Noc.  He works for three major sponsors.  He completed a two-year Cardinal Stritch college program in business management on-line and at night (still guiding days), fished tournaments and remained focused.

Why five years on the MWC circuit?  “I needed to become comfortable making decisions and adjusting on the fly.  The more mistakes I made, the better the decisions became, until there were more good decisions.  I often took a beating, but kept learning, best of all, my Dad and I improved year after year.  I also fished some eastern division events to learn the Great Lakes,” he said.

“If I was to do it all over, I’d likely fish MWC for two or three years, then spend two solid years as a co-angler at Pro-Am tournaments where I could really learn from the best in the world,” he said.

Joe said the three most important lessons learned so far are 1.) Go with your instincts and lean on what pre-fishing taught you; 2.) Find a consistent pattern first, then seek out that magic spot that’s loaded with walleyes that no other pros have discovered; 3.) Find one person to work with on the road, on the water, on shore, and trust that person to help you and vice versa.

He also noted an intimidation factor with the thought of Gofron, Parsons, Riley or Skarlis breathing down the neck of any rookie pro, and said, “Get over it!  Fish your best.  Don’t second guess yourself.  When you get beat (and you will), ask and learn and tuck that knowledge away in your bag of tricks.”

Another major move that has propelled Joe is his association with three major sponsors.  He purchased his boat to fish the FLW tour, and considers sponsors those that pay him to promote and sell their products.  One such company is ProMariner on-board products.  They make power converters, chargers and “cool stuff for boats,” he said.  “I go on the road with them to retailers, trade and consumer shows, and sales calls to buyers.  This has been some of the best off-water training ever in the fishing and marine industries.”

He has been with ProMariner for seven years.  He has worked with Rock River Marina, a dealership south of Madison for eight years.  “They’re like a second family to me,” Joe said.  And, he’s been with EZEE Step, Inc. for five years.  They manufacture and sell emergency re-boarding ladders in case an angler falls out of the boat.

“Everybody I work with on a promotional basis is a good friend.  In fact, I’ve been offered full-time jobs by each of my sponsoring partners.  But, my goals are to be on the water.  A desk-job is not in the picture at this time,” he emphasized.  Joe feels his creativity in helping his sponsor parnters gain exposure and sales is important.  “I hope the bigger sponsors like boats and outboards come back into the game, and when they do, I’ll be here,” he said.

He views the slow-down in fishing tournament and pro sponsorships, angler participation on the major tours and lower payouts as a result of the economic downturn with a unique perspective.  “Hey, there are now more opportunities.  Companies have fewer anglers to choose from, and when they bounce back, I will have survived the tough times and will be poised and ready for them.”  He intends to partner with companies where their joint efforts can build brand awareness and increase sales.

He admitted to a let-down when the economy forced so many changes with the major tournaments, but kept a positive outlook.  “This doom and gloom and negative talk have cast a shadow over the industry.  Why do people keep spouting the negatives?   Why do some websites keep pursuing and allowing the doom-and-gloomers?  Who are those people anyway?  They can’t be participants, or they’d see what the big-time pros are doing to make this a success.  Whatever they say, I keep shooting ahead and try to ignore it,” he said.

He credited the AIM pros for their support and advice.  “It’s better than a grad course; they share their experiences.  Those discussions (actually it’s more like consultations) on shore are worth every penny of the entry fee,” he said.

Following a dream can be costly, and Joe shared the figures.  He lives at home six months of the year and is on the road the other half.  His entry fees and expenses will amount to more than $25,000 in 2010.  So far he has offset that with $6,000 in winnings. Sponsorship payments for events and projects while on the tour are also a plus.  Joe said, “I accept this as a fact, and it also serves as an incentive to work harder.”  He added, “I have time for family and work.  Friendships, relationships (he’s not married) and recreation will take a back seat until I’ve reached a point in my career where I can enjoy those things.”

Joe Okada contact information for potential sponsor partners and guide trips:

Website:  joeokada.net
Email:  [email protected]
Phone:  608-575-8597

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