The title of this interview isn’t about finding the right balance in your rod and reel or the right balance of what lures to use when. The balance we talk to Kevin Finley about is far more important than those things. Kevin discusses with us the balance of professional and tournament fishing with faith and family. This balance is not always easy to achieve for even the recreational angler, let alone the tournament fisherman. Kevin has worked hard to find that balance and he shares that journey with us in this interview.
I read that you got hooked on fishing from getting skunked. What is the story behind that?
Well my father took me to Wisconsin to fish when I was young boy living in Chicago. We were pretty broke back then and didn’t even go to McDonald’s very much, much less leave the state to go fishing.
It was just a one day trip. We didn’t catch anything. I remember being excited about it for weeks ahead of time. It was an amazing trip and it hooked me for good. Never felt that kind of excitement when I saw the water and the sun coming up. I could smell it. I could just feel it.
When did you first get started tournament fishing?
I started tournament fishing in my middle teens. I think my first tournament was when I was 16 years old. I pretty much started out in the front of the boat and stayed there.
The first tournament I ever fished was a Tuesday night tournament on Lake Pleasant near my home in Phoenix Arizona. Got my butt kicked. But I didn’t care. I just remembered the excitement of being in competition against the fish and the other guys in their big boats. I had a TX-17 aluminum Bass Tracker. I felt like a king. I knew I was meant to do it.
I know you had success at an early age. When did it hit you that the sport of fishing was something you are pretty good at?
It was really a dream of mine since I was about 12 years old. I actually never really thought about whether I was good at it or not. I just assumed the more that I did it the better I would get. I felt like I had my whole life ahead of me and there was nothing stopping me from being as good as I wanted to be.
At first I just wanted to fish. I had no idea there was a such thing as tournaments much less making money fishing…but then I saw Bassmaster on TV, Ray Scott and Denny Brauer and Rick Clunn. I didn’t even know what to do with all that. It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen. I knew what I wanted to do from that moment on.
Over the years, you have had to balance your love of fishing and professional fishing with your responsibilities to your family and business. How do you manage that currently
The balance for me is, serve God and Family first, and the rest will come. That’s how it is in my life. I don’t think you can put fishing on that level at all or you’re asking for trouble in your life. I have had to give up fishing for years at times, which pained me deeply and probably pained my own father just as much to be honest.
In the times that I was working four jobs and trying to start a business, I had my eye on the end result of that…that I could fish again. During those times my father would remind me regularly that I was meant to fish, and he wanted to see me do that. He always wanted me to get back there as soon as I could.
But he understood as I did, that there are more important things. And if you don’t prioritize those properly, you can end up with a broken family and a broken wallet. Do the right thing. Then fish.
I have come to the point now that I have the freedom in my family and work life to do this. Travel and fish tournaments wherever they take me. I work on a laptop on the road to keep up with the duties to run my company when I’m gone, but I have good people working for me. They are more than just employees. They are friends.
You had a really cool Instagram post that talked about the support of your wife. What has she meant to you and your fishing career?
Without the support of your wife, you can’t do this. It’s just simply a fact. My wife is the most wonderful woman in the world. She is so supportive. She comes with me on my trips much of the time and cheers for me in the crowd. My life is blessed.
She gives me peptalk‘s when I need them, and gives me advice when I need it. She is pleasantly perfect, gentle in spirit, and beautiful at heart. When I bring in a good bag, she is more excited than me. I send her texts after I get past the check-in boat. I say “Comin in heavy” or “Comin in light”. She either jumps for joy or tells me how it’s okay and I’ll get em’ tomorrow. Sky is the limit with a woman like that. Truly is.
You have an impressive group of sponsors. What have been your keys to getting sponsors?
I really have been blessed. My current sponsors, with McMillan Fiberglass Stocks leading the way, are so terrific that I don’t even know what to do with myself. This is where I think most fishermen…and some very well accomplished fishermen…and kids coming up in the sport, miss the boat.
Fishing professionally is a business if you want to make money doing it. If you don’t want to make money doing it then you don’t have to treat it like a business. But if you want to make money doing it then you must treat it like a business.
That means you build business relationships. You carry yourself in a professional manner. You go the extra mile to build those relationships. You make people want to be associated with you and your brand whether you are on a winning streak or not. You don’t show up on stage with a coffee stained shirt. You don’t complain about your poor tournament performance on your social media. You keep a positive and professional outlook in all of your fishing.
When you get on stage even if you are weighing one fish and crashed and burned on the final day of a tournament, you smile. Wave at everyone in the crowd. Tell them how much you like being there and how much you like the lake. Tell them you can’t wait to come back. Look people in the eye and shake hands. Thank everyone and mean it. Think of the positives and be thankful. Nobody can win all the time.
Sponsorships are how you make consistent money in this business. Kevin Van Dam had 3 hard years recently and then came back with a vengeance. Guarantee you he didn’t have trouble putting food on the table during that down time because of his business relationships. If you are going to be a professional angler, long term, it can’t just be about tournament winnings. Those will come and go. So build your relationships and build your business.
How was your 2017 tournament season overall?
My highlight was going into the last day of the WON Bass California Open in the top 5 and a shot to win. Ended up losing a big fish the final day and did not pull it off but I had a good finish. Had a great co-angler that day. Was my first time on Clear Lake in California and can’t wait to go back. It just fishes like I Iike to fish. Big cranks, flippin’, jerkbaits…gotta love it.
The rest of my season was a mixed bag. Cashed some checks locally, but really fished middle of the road on my travels last year. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the season, but it definitely gave me more fuel for the fire this year. I’m a competitor and when I don’t win, I try even harder.
I believe that I saw you will be fishing the FLW this year. What are the areas that you go in with a ton of confidence in fishing the FLW level?
I really am excited about fishing FLW this year. I am actually fishing two FLW Costa series trails instead of one. That’s 6 tournaments and the championship. I am also Fishing WON Bass as well, which includes the U.S. Open.
I really go into any tournament with confidence if I have time to pre-fish. If I only have a day or two to pre-fish it really hampers me mentally and on the water. Outside of a home lake that I know well, like Lake Pleasant, I really like to have 4 or 5 days to put something together. As long as I have that, I have confidence on any water, even if I don’t know it or never been on it.
I have to make sure I do my homework. There is so much that you can do before you get to the lake anymore with the technology today. I think that is as important as the pre-fish on the water.
What is your all time favorite tournament lake?
It’s Lake Mead. It has not particularly been good to me. However, it is massive, it is tough, and 250 boats can get lost on that water. Depending on where you are you may not see any other boats for hours.
It’s an amazing stadium, and I’m hooked on it. The wind makes the lake dangerous at times, and the heat makes it nearly unbearable…I love all of it. It’s a challenge. Smallmouth and Largemouth. It’s a fisherman’s dream. And it’s the lake of the 1st BassMaster’s Classic ta boot. It has everything.
Overall, what are 5 pieces of advice that you have for other anglers who want to make a professional fishing journey?
Well lemme think… I would say behave in a professional manner number one. You won’t get far with anything in life without that, and fishing is no exception.
Secondly would be to build relationships around you. You never know where that’s going to lead…and that lead may directly reflect how many days on the water you are able to fish. You never know who that person is that you’re being nice to.
Thirdly, keep a journal of what you caught and where and what it was like when you caught it. It sure helps a lot when you go fishing on March 15 and you can look back at your journal and see exactly what you did on the previous years on the exact same day.
Fourth would be to be smart with your finances. You need to have a plan in order to fish on whatever level you want to. Flying by the seat of your pants will just make you broke.
And lastly, I’d say…I serve God and family first. You gotta be grounded. Fishing on a higher level whether it be local or National can get in your head. You have to be able to have that place that you come back down to and be grounded.
Not much to say other than thank you Kevin! Such an important reminder about balance for every angler.
Make sure to check out what Kevin is up to at KevinFinleyFishing.com.