Scanning through a social media business platform, I came across a good question. It involved young anglers trying to establish a career in fishing.

“What advice would you give,” asked the post. The question came from Brooks Lundgren on his College Bass Connect channel. After a little investigating, I learned that Lundgren has established a business to connect up-and-coming anglers with fishing brands and other outdoor enthusiasts, building a platform to get these types of conversations going.

At first, I thought of a cynical reply.

“Get a real job. Then fish for fun.”

Sorry, it was the first thing to come to mind. Maybe I’d need to tone it down a bit.

“Invent a fishing product – that way you can be your own pro-staffer. Guarantees you a spot, regardless of marketing budget.”

Still too harsh.

After a bit of consideration, it came to me. It’s been my mantra in recent times, after realizing how fatiguing the fishing industry can be, and how short life is.

“Be authentic.”

That’s the key. In an industry built around a passionate hobby, and one plagued with crappy content and outlandish turnover, authenticity is the overlooked secret to success. It’s amazing how many people are unaware of this.

Think about any long-term success in fishing. Consider brands. Those that are celebrating big anniversaries, 50, 75, 100 years; those brands are building products that outdoor enthusiasts have come to rely on regardless of fads or outside influences. Authentic products. Things that work. Mercury Marine immediately comes to mind. When Mercury first started building outboard engines, Franklin D. Roosevelt was president of the United States. That’s an example of long-term authenticity.

Some newer companies continue to set the tone. Often it’s through pure performance. A case in point, and one I rely on often, is Yeti. For well over a decade, Yeti has continued to run the table in the world of coolers, drinkware and outdoor goods. They’ve done so despite immeasurable resistance initially, when nearly every outdoor enthusiast in America scoffed at the price point. They’ve carried-on despite being copied and ripped off worse than any outdoor product in history. And Yeti has come out ahead, creating the strongest consumer-driven marketing campaign we’ve ever seen, despite those overwhelming challenges. I’d hate to guess how many Yeti stickers crisscross America today. In the end, Yeti did all of this through authenticity.

Turning our attention more to the question at hand. Authenticity is a key trait in people, too, and one that’s evident in the top executives in our business. I should know. After 25 years, I’ve worked for some of the best (and worst) around.

You’ll notice the good ones after some time. They’re the men and women who have been at the trade shows, the tournaments, the photo shoots and functions for decades. You come to associate them with the sport of fishing. Many today feel the need to give back, taking on thankless jobs with conservation and industry organizations determined to keep us all outside. These folks have seen the cycles of the sport, withstood the ups and downs of the economy, and fought back against unneeded regulation while welcoming change. They were social before social media. Authentically.

Many of the veteran competitors also still fit the bill. Kevin VanDam immediately comes to mind. Sure, he’s sold some gear in his time, but don’t think for a minute that this guy isn’t authentic. VanDam continues to be the most important influencer the sport of professional bass fishing has ever seen. His unwavering commitment to his sponsors can’t be overstated. Combine that with VanDam’s career as the most dominating competitor ever, and we have Authentic with a capital “A”.

You’ll get the same feel when talking with the other veterans of this game, anglers who were around when there was only one way to make a living as a professional fisherman, on the road. Guys with names like Walker, Davis, Browning, Nixon, Clunn and Klein. Long ago, they quit playing games to try and sell a few more lizards.

A few fishing celebrities still pull it off, too. Hank Parker’s always been true to his message and the sport. And if you follow Flip Pallot, you know what it means to be authentic. These are the guys who’ve spent a lifetime staying focused, only to be recognized all too late with an achievement award or a spot in a hall of some kind. Until you’ve jumped in head-first and invested everything in a life of fishing, it’s impossible to understand the sacrifices they’ve made to simply stay authentic.

There have been a few authentic writers, though they’re increasingly rare with so much of the sport influenced by the almighty advertising dollar. Just when I think I’ve found a holdout, an editor drops a product mention straight out of the Bass Pro Shops catalog. Take it from me, it’s hard to please everyone. But maybe there’s still hope.

Influencers have been the last to get the message. While social media content has skyrocketed in popularity, it continues to struggle with its image. Often, those in charge of its broadcast aren’t looking long-term, either.

I heard a great comment by Chelsea Fagan, creator of the wildly successful Financial Diet media platform. To sum up, Fagan said that brands basing the performance of their content solely on social media numbers are in a race to the bottom. Destined to fail. In essence, “likes” and “shares” have little to do with long-term success. This is coming from a woman who started a simple blog and later turned it into a YouTube page that currently hosts 1 million subscribers. She did that through authenticity.

That’s the last frontier - bringing authentic content to fishing media. We’ve always struggled here. But – mark my word – our consumers have grown tired of it and will embrace the change. Whether that be television, YouTube, written material or even the stuff driven by full-time “influencers”, authentic content will win in the end. The sooner you learn that, youngsters, the sooner you’ll be on the right path.

I guess mine was an answer too long for the comment section (though I did my best to chime in on Lundgren’s page). But there you have it, 25 years later.

Be authentic.

A career in fishing is anything but easy. To succeed, stay the course. And enjoy the ride.

(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)