Former collegiate anglers for the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University bass clubs will make their debut on the B.A.S.S. Elite Series this season.
The Elite Series, the top level of the professional bass fishing trail, begins this week in Orange, Texas, on the Sabine River.
Among the rookies will be two Oklahomans – James Elam of Broken Arrow and Chip Porche of Bixby.
Elam started the bass club at Oklahoma State, and Porche did the same at Oklahoma.
They qualified for the Elite Series by finishing in the top five of the point standings in the Central Opens.
With the addition of Elam and Porche, a dozen of the 100 anglers now fishing the Elite Series are from Oklahoma. Like most anglers on the tour, Elam and Porche are chasing a dream.
“I have been wanting to fish professionally since I was 8 years old,” Porche said. “That's all I ever wanted to do.”
But, trying to earn a living as a pro bass angler is a gamble. The entry fees to the eight Elite Series events total $43,000. And then there is the cost of gas, food, lodging and equipment.
Porche, 25, estimates the costs of fishing the Elite Series for an angler anywhere from $60,000 to $75,000, or even more.
“It depends on where you stay and what you eat,” he said. “It depends on whether you want to eat a bologna sandwich or you want to eat a steak.”
Porche was able to obtain a title sponsor, US Highland in Tulsa, to help defray his costs.
“He got a stellar deal for a rookie,” Elam said. “I have a few sponsors helping me out, but I don't have anybody floating it all.”
Elam, 26, works for his family's machine shop in Catoosa. He says fishing the Elite Series is a financial risk, but it's one he can't pass up.
“It's like starting your own business, really,” he said. “I knew how hard it would be and how much money it would take, but it's something I've always wanted to do. I didn't know if it would ever be possible.”
To help save money, Porche and Elam will be traveling buddies on the Elite Series. They will ride and room together during the season.
“James and I have known each other since we were kids,” Porche said. “We grew up fishing Fishin' Pals against each other.”
The anglers might share a meal and a room, but they won't share any fishing secrets.
Even though Elam and Porche are friends - they are competitors on the water - and rarely share fishing information with each other.
“We just don't talk a whole lot about fishing out of respect for each other,” Porche said. “Maybe what color (bass) are eating or something like that, but not where you're at or what you're focusing on.”