(Editor's note: Today BassFan introduces a new regular column – Sonar Sound-Off, by University of Central Florida student and aspiring tour pro Miles Burghoff. In this first installment, he reveals a little bit about his unique background (read down a ways and you'll likely get a chuckle out of how he "inherited" his nickname) and how he developed his obsession with becoming a pro. Future editions – assuming he can create some time in his hectic schedule to write them – will focus on his ongoing efforts to fulfill his longtime dream. We hope you'll find his attitude toward the sport as refreshing as we do.)
Major sponsors dropping like flies. Mega-industry corporations filing for bankruptcy. Falling prize purses. Veteran professional anglers fading from tournament circuits because of economics.
Dude, what a bummer! Not the best era in professional fishing to foster up-and-coming professionals, especially if those prospects don’t have the benefit of a trust fund or major industry connections. And I’m one of those guys.
What’s up, BassFans? My name is Miles Burghoff, but my friends call me “Sonar.” I’m 23, a college student, a fishing guide in Alaska during the summers and a waiter at Red Lobster during the school year, and I'm thoroughly dedicated to becoming a pro bass angler.
I'll get to the point of this column shortly, but first I'll give you a brief bio.
Some of you might recognize my last name. My father, Gary Burghoff, is the actor who played “Radar” (hence my nickname) on the motion picture and television series “M*A*S*H.” But contrary to popular belief, just because someone is an actor, that doesn’t mean he or she is “well-off” for life. We weren’t poor, but there were years we barely stayed afloat on middle-class waters.
I was born in southern Florida and spent the first several years of my life in the Keys. During summers I'd visit our house in Connecticut (where I learned to catch bass). When I was about 6, my mom moved us to Northern California, where I lived throughout my school years.
I decided when I was 12 that I wanted to pursue a career as a tournament angler, just as my father decided he wanted to act at around the same age. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I realized what I needed to do to transform my dream of becoming a professional angler into a reality.
During my senior year I organized a tournament on Lake Oroville in California called the All-Teen Team Bass Tournament, where teens were paired with local professionals for a day of fishing. It was a hit, drawing more than 35 boats and introducing the same number of youth to the sport. And by running that event I met a lot of industry professionals and learned a lot about the sport. That tournament was the catalyst in my decision to move.
I ended up packing all my fishing gear, my crates of bass fishing magazines, books, and my clothes, and headed east to Florida. The choice was a logical one, but it was difficult.
I ended up having to leave not only my mom and brother, but my friends that I had known for more than a decade, and I had to give up my social life that I had become accustomed to. But I knew that to become a professional angler, I had to give up partying every night and move to a place where I could focus and stay on the water.
I also needed to be in a place that was more centralized in the bass fishing community, and where the fishing was completely different than what I had experienced before. Florida fit the bill since I had never fished freshwater there.
When I relocated, I didn’t know a soul other than my dad, who'd been wintering in Florida for several years. I set up shop in a 27-foot travel trailer and moved to a town I had never been to before, called Fort Pierce. It had two big drawing cards – Lake Okeechobee 45 minutes away, and the Indian River Community College, where I ended up getting my associate of arts degree.
Fast-forward to the present. I now live in Orlando and I'm a student at the University of Central Florida, working for my bachelor's degree in marketing. I still live in the trailer, I work 35 hours at Red Lobster (except when I guide in Alaska) and I fish full-time in Florida BFLs and other regional trails.
Over the past several years I have maintained the hectic schedule with work, school, tournament fishing and time for working with sponsors. I pull it off by taking primarily Internet classes, fishing before and after work and meticulously planning my schedule so I don’t get surprised with an exam during a tournament or promotional event.
It's been a hard road so far, with all the sacrifices I’ve made. However, with the economy driving the sport into dire straits, it's been even harder to stay positive while looking at the whole mess through my trailer’s windows.
I recently read Randy Blaukat’s column concerning the state of the industry, and though I cannot agree or disagree with his politics, he does speak the truth about the sport in general. The sport and the industry as a whole does need to change to facilitate healthy growth. However, I will not subscribe to the “doomsday” view of the future of our beloved sport.
At a time when we should be doing everything in our power to inject optimism into the hearts of our struggling, aspiring pros, we are giving them every reason to look for a Plan B. And let me tell you, when you live in a trailer smaller than a weigh-in stage, it’s easy to want to draw out a Plan B.
The fact of the matter is that without encouraging the young anglers with a dream of making a living in the sport, eventually there won't be any sport at all.
There is a point where being optimistic turns into being naďve. I may be naďve, but I love this sport and I want to make a living in it. It's as simple as that.
The cool thing is that there are others like me out there – young and old – who have given up their daily lives to pursue their dreams, which I like to refer to as goals. This brings me to the reason for this column.
The folks at BassFan thought that it would be a cool concept to follow an aspiring professional bass angler (me) who is faced with the trials and tribulations that can only be experienced in today’s professional tournament angling environment. Through the column, I will document my emotional, financial, competitive and physical trials and tribulations throughout the 2010 season while going to school, working a “regular job,” working with sponsors and fishing local, regional and national tournaments, including FLW College events, the Florida BFLs and the Bassmaster Opens.
Also, I want to give the fans and players a different perspective on the sport.
Some columns may be no more than an account of a fishing tournament I just competed in, while others will delve deep into my psyche, exposing emotions that hopefully my aspiring professional brothers and sisters can relate to.
If I can’t sleep at night because something is bothering me about my progress or the sport, I'm going to let you know through the column
If I have a horrible tournament that makes me doubt my own abilities, I’m going to let it all out.
If I have tips on how to deal with a certain issue that we often have to confront in the sport, I will post it up.
If I find a cheap new way to spice up a Cup-O-Noodles, I’m going to let you in on the secret.
I’m not hoping to provoke sympathy from anyone – these days, that takes more than someone living in a trailer and eating mainly from “just add water” food groups, because we are all dealing with the bad economy. What I hope to do is inspire those out there, working really hard for their dreams (goals), to stick with it. I know for a fact that there is still plenty of room in this sport for the dreamers – not only for those in need of a hobby.
Also, I’m hoping it will be an interesting column for those of you who just enjoy reading about bass fishing. It’s all about learning, and if I can shed some light on the good, the bad and the downright nasty parts of being a starving, aspiring pro, well, I'll gladly be your Guinea pig.