By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
J.T. Palmore keeps advancing his standing on the final FLW Tour points list by about 30 places each year, and a similar jump in 2013 would have him contending for the Angler of the Year (AOY) title.
At the moment, though, the 27-year-old Virginian's only goal concerning next season is being in the field for the Tour opener at Lake Okeechobee in February. He needs to come up with some sponsorship money soon, or else go into another line of work.
"If you win in this sport, you can make money," he said. "A lot of times there's no real payoff for being consistent, though.
"If you finish between 15th and 30th the whole year and you're paying for everything yourself, you're not making a lot of money."
Leaps and Bounds
Palmore, who holds a degree in history from Virginia's prestigious Hampden-Sydney College, fished his first Tour campaign in 2010. A 57th at Lake Ouachita was his best finish that year and he didn't earn a single cent in prize money, and he ended up 93rd in the points.
He moved up to 64th in the AOY race in 2011 and made his first 20-cut at Chickamauga, concluding the year with three money finishes in six outings. He then spent all of this year in the top half of the field, finishing no lower than 75th in any event, and qualified for his first Forrest Wood Cup with a 34th place showing in the points.
Another 30-position climb in 2013, into the rarefied air annually breathed by the likes of David Dudley, Luke Clausen and Andy Morgan, might be a longshot, but Palmore just hopes that he gets to try.
"(FLW tournament director) Bill Taylor called last week, and I told him there's no way I'm going to be able to fish next year unless I get a sponsor," he said. "I did it on my own this year, and if you ask most people, I had pretty good year. But when you add everything up, I didn't hardly make any money (he pocketed about $45,000, including his Cup winnings).
"It's great being out there with the guys and living the dream, but what it boils down to is I've got to look at it as a business. When I started I said I'd give myself 3 years to show a return, and if it wasn't there I'd have to move on."
He got married a little over a year ago and plans to start a family in the not-too-distant future, and he's not willing to embark on that endeavor with a ton of debt hanging over his head.
"It's hard to make a living with FLW right now unless you've got a team deal, and there's fewer of those with the (National) Guard pulling out. With the economy the way it is, not many non-endemic companies want to spend their marketing dollars on a pro fisherman."
One in the Works
All hope is not lost for 2013 – Palmore said he has one deal in the works that, if it comes through, could be the solution to his dilemma.
"Like a lot of other ones, everything sounds real good to start off with," he said. "I haven't gotten the email yet that thanks you for the interest in the product, but that there's nothing they can do at this time.
"I hate to be so pessimistic, but I've been sending out those letters for 3 years. The guys I know with non-endemic sponsorships, 90 percent of them came about because so-and-so knew so-and-so, and they ended up meeting them. It wasn't from a cold email to that company's marketing department.
"I know a lot of good ol' boys," he concluded, "but not a lot of big wigs in Fortune 500 companies."
If nothing turns up, he'll hit the bricks in search of a "regular" job, which would likely require a move out of the country farmhouse that's been in his family for generations.
"With the state of the economy, I'd look for something in sales or marketing – something where I was interacting with people. But where I live is very rural and there's not a lot of big industry here."