Everyone remembers their first time fishing on the bank of a river, off the dock on a small pond, or somewhere out in the deep blue. To some, fishing is a hobby, but to others it’s a lifestyle – a tradition passed down from generation to generation.
For Billy McDonald, life was simple growing up in central Indiana where he quickly learned the value of respecting the land. “Other than milk, eggs, and bread. Basically, everything we raised. Every year, we’d kill a beef and a hog. We kept everything we killed while out hunting and fishing. Big gardens and canning…that’s how we lived.”
Billy developed a passion and love for fishing learning from his father and older brother. And just like many of us, Billy’s been fishing his entire life.
Billy started his professional fishing career going to tournaments with his brother in the mid-1980s. In pursuit of a full-time professional opportunity, Billy always knew he had what it takes: the dedication to spend countless hours out on the water, persistence, hard work, and most importantly, support from his family.
This year, Billy’s dreams have come true. He is ready to embark upon his first year as a full-time professional fisherman.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Billy about his fishing career, and get his thoughts about today’s technology advancements and the future of the fishing industry.
What’s your favorite part about fishing?
“It’s all about the hunt. The fun part is trying to figure out where they’re [fish] going and what they’re doing, trying to trick them into biting artificial baits. I fish with no live bait…it’s more of a competitive thing, more gratification.”
What are some of your favorites, i.e. lakes, fish to catch, lures?
“A bass jig is my go-to bait. I can fish it deep, shallow, and midrange.” He added that, “Kentucky lake, 300 miles from home, is a ‘dynamite’ place to fish. I consider that to be my hometown lake.”
“My favorite fish to catch? Well, I’d have to say large mouth, because small mouth are sometimes too hard to catch,” he said with a laugh.
What does it take to be a professional fisherman?
“You have to be driven. There’s no coach or mentor that can do it for you. Whether it’s snowing, raining, or windy, you have to get out there and do your job.”
For Billy, it’s about the drive, competition, and desire to win. “Competition is the most exciting. Due to my size and stature, I knew my chances in the professional football, baseball, or basketball arena were few and far between. So, fishing was a sport that I could compete in and feel very confident.”
“Don’t quit. It’s an obvious one, but that’s the biggest advice. You have to be out there to catch ’em and fish every opportunity you get. Fish with as many people as you can to learn from them.”
What are the four F’s of Fishing?
Faith. Family. Fishing. Food. “I keep my faith first, then my family, fishing, and then I eat. If my priorities are out of line, then things just don’t seem to go well.”
How have today’s advancements in technology impacted your career?
Over the past 20 years the fishing industry has seen some dramatic changes. Billy says one of the biggest changes he’s witnessed is, technology. “Our boats are bigger and faster, the age of social media, and our electronics have all made the sport better. I can now pinpoint with GPS maps online, which allows us to do our homework at home. I spend a lot of my time reading articles online, glancing through forums about lake activity, and researching those maps to find out where I want to start the tournament.”
Billy cites the advancements in technology as a big advantage to the younger generation seeking to get a shot at a professional career. “It’s not the same as when I first started, looking at handheld maps, triangulating the hot-spots, accuracy just wasn’t the same.”
What do you do when you’re not fishing?
“When I’m not fishing, usually during the winter, I love to spend time with my oldest son. We deer hunt, both bow and gun. We like to take advantage of every season, working to harvest the animals that need to be harvested, especially those bucks on top of the food chain, the ones that have reached maximum growth and ability to reproduce.”
What things do you see threatening the continued advancement of the sport?
Although the fishing industry’s gone through major advancements, it’s also being met by challenges from animal and environmental activists. Billy added, “They’re working to ban lead products and outlaw plastics, both of which in my opinion have very minimal impact on aquatic wildlife.” He elaborated by saying, “A lot of people want to butt into our business when they have no idea what we’re actually doing. We are the ones, the hunters and fishermen, spending the money on equipment and paying the taxes that provide for the best conservation management practices available.”
Billy’s committed to protecting and preserving the American traditions and lifestyle he loves, working to passing down the same to the next generation in his family. He’s not afraid to speak the truth.
“It’s our God-given right to hunt and fish. These fish and animals were put here for us, to help us to eat and to provide food for us.”
You can stay up to speed with Billy’s first year as a professional fisherman by following him on Facebook and Twitter. Be on the lookout for Billy as he takes to the water in the FLW Fishing Tour opening tournament starting this February at Lake Okeechobee, Florida.
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