It didn't take Michael Murphy long to reach a crossroads in his career. Until a few months ago, the 25-year-old pro – who's currently 12th in the FLW Series points and 2nd in the BassFan Rookie of the Year Race – wasn't sure if he'd be able to fish this year.
He faced the classic work vs. fish conflict that dogs so many up-and-comers.
But that changed when a sponsor stepped up to the plate. No, Pflueger didn't hand him a bunch of dough to go fish. The company went one better.
Have Desk, Can't Fish
Murphy had spent several years as a lure designer with Spro.
"With the growth of Spro, (national sales manager) Tim Norman needed to travel more," Murphy said. "There needed to be someone in the office, so at 24 years old, I went from being the tiger attacking the gazelle, to being the photographer watching it happen. I wanted to be out there."
Murphy's tenure with Spro had included a number of lure-design assignments – he said he was instrumental in getting Dean Rojas' Bronzeye Frog to market, for example – but through it all he still had time to fish. When that changed, he started to second-guess his career path.
Those feelings intensified when he entered the FLW Series on a Yamaha provisional berth. The season-opener was at Lake Lanier in Georgia, where he'd spent several seasons as a guide.
"I went to Spro and didn't get the answer I was looking for," he said. "That forced me to make a career decision. I understood where Spro was coming from – they're growing so quick and having so much success, they needed somebody to be there full-time.
"But my wife has a good job, and this (fishing) is something I've been trying to do for a long time. I figured, if I don't do it now, I may never get the opportunity. I had to take it, and Spro said they'd keep me on their pro staff."
He resigned from Spro this past February.
Have Desk, Will Fish
The few sponsor contracts Murphy had could in no way support a year in the 'bigs,' so he went back to his sponsors and asked for some help.
"I gave Spro 2 months (notice) so it would be a smooth transition," he said. "At that point, I emailed my sponsors. Unfortunately, some didn't support me, some but did.
"When I did that, (Pflueger advertising and public relations senior manager) Mark Davis said, 'What are you going to do the other 48 weeks of the year you're not fishing?'"
"I told him, 'That's why I'm emailing.'"
"He (Davis) said, 'What if we give you a desk, and you can fish?'"
That was all Murphy needed to hear. He up and moved to the Pflueger headquarters in South Carolina, with the promise of a strong day job as PR coordinator, alongside the opportunity to fish at the tour/series level.
Have Desk, Gone Fishing
Murphy's first run at tour/series-level competition has been strong. He finished 37th at the Lanier FLW Series and 22nd at Cumberland. He's currently practicing for the Old Hickory FLW Series, which begins tomorrow.
Murphy is currently 2nd in the BassFan Rookie of the Year race, and needs a strong Old Hickory event to remain in contention.
"My first tournament (at Lanier), I practiced my butt off before the cutoff," he said. "I really worked over the lake. It'd been about a year and a half since I'd been there, but guiding there and fishing local tournaments there – that helped.
"I focused on two bites – shallow and deep – but with the pressure the lake was getting, largemouths played a role. I didn't expect that. The fish were a little shallower than I was targeting. But it was a big deal for me – my first pro tournament and my first check.
"By doing that, I got a lot of monkeys off my back and felt very happy."
Two months later at Cumberland, he didn't know what to expect. "I heard a lot of things about it," he said. "I've fished a lot of lower Cumberland lakes like Barkley and Kentucky, and the Tennessee River. So I know that area of the country can be very tough."
Even though sight-fishing was expected to be a strong pattern, he didn't feel he could do it for 4 days. So he bailed on that bite and headed up the river.
"I felt those (river) fish would be more post-spawn," he said. "So I just focused on five fish a day. Only four people caught a limit every day, and I was one of them. And so far, only two people have weighed a limit every day the whole season – me and Dave Lefebre."
The good finishes in two tough-bite tournaments are telling. He said those conditions are one of his strengths, which is a product of his Indiana upbringing.
"I think it mostly falls back on the fact that I'm from Indiana. The state has very high fishing pressure, and fronts roll in on top of one another. It's poor fishing conditions. So that's how I fish – light line, spinning reels, 7-foot light rods and a jighead worm.
"And that really surprised me – that (Cumberland) finish – because I just really wanted to hang on and survive."
Two Down, Three Left
The FLW Series season is comprised of five events – unlike the six that make up the FLW Tour. That's good news for Murphy, who needs to stay within the Top 30 in the points to qualify for the 2007 Forrest Wood Cup (the new FLW Championship which draws its field from multiple sources, including the FLW Series).
And he's equally well positioned in the BassFan ROY Race – 2nd and 9.5 points behind fellow FLW Series stick Tim Farley.
About the BassFan ROY award – which is the only award of its kind in that it measures the performance of true rookies across the three major leagues – he said: "I'd love to win it. It's like I told Shakespeare/Pflueger when I started, 'I don't know where I'll be tomorrow. And I don't know where I'll be in 5 years. "But I know what I want to do today.
"I set this goal 20 years ago and said, 'That's what I'm going to do.' And The (ROY) award would be great, but it would be more or less an expression of everything I've wanted since I was 5 years old."
> Murphy began his college education as an engineering major at Purdue. He soon realized the engineering world wasn't for him and switched to a dual major – fisheries and aquatic sciences, plus sales and sales management. He chose the dual major on the advice of Denny Brauer, who told him a sales background was critical to a career in fishing and the fishing industry.
> He's originally from Plainfield, Ind.