How To Make Money Fishing - Three Ways to Earn a Living on the Water

Written by: Pete D
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Let’s discuss the elephant in the room right off the bat: if you want to make money sport fishing, it’s going to be tough.

Pursuing a career as a fisherman on the Bass Pro Tour is very much like chasing down your dream of playing football in the NFL or basketball for the NBA. Lots of people try, but only a very talented (and lucky) few actually earn any money. 

Better paths for anglers who want to earn a living on the water are to become a deckhand on a commercial fishing trawler or to leverage your skills, and personality, and start building a guide business or YouTube following.

We’ll discuss these options in depth below, giving you a good idea of what it takes to earn money fishing.

Related: 

Become a Commercial Fisherman

commercial fisherman According to careerexplorer.com, the average pay for commercial fishermen is $37,411 per year.

That’s not a ton of money, but the top 20% make as much as $81,203.

That’s a number that sounds a lot better!

To become a commercial fisherman, you don’t need any specific education or training, but experience - as always - is a huge advantage. And by experience, I don’t mean time on a lake with a rod and reel, but rather experience as a deckhand, handling lines and equipment.

As a commercial fisherman, you can expect the following kinds of tasks:

  • handling and hauling of gear, operation of deck equipment, and the loading and unloading of inventory;
  • handling and operating all deck gear;
  • setting and hauling back of fishing nets and lines;
  • maintaining and repairing fishing gear and nets;
  • handling lines;
  • loading and unloading inventory (fish); and
  • assisting in the factory as needed.

As you can see, you’ll want to get some experience as a general deckhand first, unless you’re lucky enough to snag a fishing industry job on your first try.

Generally, the kinds of skills and experience a commercial fisherman is expected to have include:

  • an up-to-date Ordinary Seaman’s card;
  • experience working on the deck of a factory trawler;
  • basic navigation and communication skills;
  • basic engineering knowledge;
  • knowledge in splicing wire and lines;
  • basic net repair knowledge;
  • basic ability to identify fish species for the fishery being applied for;
  • basic firefighting knowledge; and
  • basic cooking skills;

Deckhands on fishing trawlers wear a lot of hats, and all the jobs on the boat need to be handled by the crew.

What can you expect?

Long, long hours, hard work, tough conditions, and plenty of risk to life and limb:

Become a Pro Angler

pro fisherman

This is a very tough way to earn a living, but if you can manage it, you’ll never “work” a day in your life!

The path to becoming a pro angler on a tour like Major League Fishing or the Bass Pro Tour begins from the bottom. You need to enter - and win - many small tournaments where the prize money is just hundreds of dollars.

These need to be sanctioned events, that is, official tournaments sponsored by Bass Pro or T-H Marine that are open to professionals. 

If you can win these small events, you can build the skills necessary to pay for - and win - larger, more competitive tournaments.

The key here is to be able to devote the time necessary to skill building, and that means more than just hitting your local lakes and ponds. You need to learn to master every weather condition and fishing situation out there - and don’t kid yourself; the competition is fierce!

Start Your Own Business

If you think this is the easy route to making money from fishing, you’ve got it all wrong!

From charter captains and fishing guides to YouTube celebrities, it takes a lot of hard work and some very specific skills to succeed in the fishing industry.

For every 100 people who try these options, maybe only 2 or 3 will actually earn a living!

Fishing guides and charter captains

Successful charter captains are pro anglers who know their local waters the way you understand the lay of the land in your living room. They can tell you the best places to find fish in any season, weather, or lunar phase, and they know how to get their clients on fish with no excuses.

They also know how to ensure that their paying customers have a good time, have what they need to succeed, and will recommend their experience to others. You'll need to be as good (or even better) with people as you are with fish!

Building that client base is incredibly hard work - and the upfront costs can be brutal. Imagine having to take clients out on a really bad day’s fishing, remain accountable for that, and still get them to come back.

YouTube stars

If you’re good at fishing, have something interesting to say, and have a charismatic screen presence, you might try your hand at making YouTube videos. 

Guys like

certainly have garnered a lot of views and legions of subscribers, but they’ve worked hard for that success, and they’re a real pleasure to watch.

If you think you can out-Bill Dance Bill Dance, give it a try!

You can start with almost nothing more than a decent phone and an internet connection.

But keep in mind that YouTubers need huge viewerships to earn real money.

According to multiplesources, you can expect just $0.01 to $0.03 per view. Your actual earnings depend on a variety of factors, however, mostly related to ad revenue and the number of viewers who engage with your content.

Final Thoughts

It’s tough to make a living fishing, but if you can manage it, it can be amazingly rewarding. 

Don’t forget that fishing-adjacent jobs like working in a tackle shop or at Bass Pro can also make use of your fishing skills and may feel more like hobbies than actual jobs!

We hope you learned something from this article today, and we wish you the best of luck!

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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