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Angler Profile

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By: Paul Strege

 

The Last Boat was the Best Boat
For Fuji Film Pro Scott Bonnema of Zimmerman , Minnesota , the very beginning to his professional bass angling career was an improbable one. The foundation for catching fish was established early on the banks of the Minnesota River in Granite Falls while in pursuit of panfish, catfish and bullheads with his dad and grandfather. But it was not until his move to California that his panache for locating and catching bass would be unveiled.

After meeting a bass fishing enthusiast shortly after settling-in the Eureka State in 1983, Scott joined a local club, where in his first year, he earned Angler of the Year honors. That accomplishment not only turned the heads of club veterans, but it also came with the prize of a tournament sponsorship. With that opportunity, Scott entered a popular Red Man tournament on Clear Lake .

“I can remember it like it was yesterday. There were 191 boats entered in the event. And the reason I can remember that number is because I was drawn with nobody. I was the very last guy standing. I was all by myself and didn’t know that many people.”

That unlikely boat draw, however, gave him the opportunity to fish solo, without the distraction of a partner. Scott chunked a spinnerbait that day to a third place finish and a $3500 check. The prize was just the right amount of financial and mental capital needed to launch his career. Although consecutive strings of podium finishes did not immediately follow, he invested time on the water, further refined techniques, and made valuable contacts within the industry. A few years later, those contacts materialized into a Skeeter State Team membership.

A Return to Minnesota
In 1989, Scott returned to Minnesota and started the company he serves as President for today, North Star Imaging. Through the move he remained with Skeeter and started work with the local dealer, Frankies Marine in Chisago City . An opportunity to fish with Ranger arose around the same time Skeeter was purchased by Yamaha. Hesitant to sacrifice the long-trusted Mercury outboard brand, and intrigued by Ranger’s quality reputation, he decided to make a switch while remaining with Frankies Marine. That decision would prove to be a fortuitous one. A few years later, FLW Outdoors began assembling corporate angling teams in conjunction with Ranger Boats. While fishing a Silverado tournament on Lake Minnetonka with a regional representative, Scott was offered a team position with either Coca Cola or Fuji Film. His North Star Imaging business had ties with the Fuji Film product line, so the decision was simple. He would become a Fuji Film Pro!

The Adjustments
Becoming acquainted with Minnesota ’s waters did not yield immediate success for Scott, but some skills developed in California proved beneficial in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

“The only real natural lake out there was Clear Lake in northern California . Every other lake was either a tidal delta or big reservoir. And most reservoirs have very little if any vegetation in them due to the water level fluctuations over the course of a year. You could find a spot in the springtime and by late summer it might be 80 feet out of water. So every time out on the water, I’d try to figure out new structure and how it may change. Learning how to use electronics out there was essential.”

Dragging jigs (football heads) and split shot rigs were very successful out west, and Scott was able to apply that experience in combination with sonar reading to the glacial lakes of Minnesota . His early Minnesota tournament success was derived from locating fish off traffic-laden weedline edges. Scott would target the first structural or contour change off of those edges, and he largely had those areas to himself. With the advent of western tournament anglers on the national tour, their techniques have long since been exposed to the rest of the country. Other anglers have now caught on.

“The Tournament” and Other Favorite Waters
Although Scott has qualified for several BASS Federation Divisional Teams, the Federation National Championship, and has stepped high atop other stages such as the Minnesota Pro/Am Bass Tour, his most impressive accomplishment is arguably the 1999 Minnesota Bass Federation State Championship on Lake Pokegama . Everything fell in-line for Scott from his pre-tournament research to the official practice to the tournament itself. When asked of his chances of success by a good friend on the eve of the event, Scott replied that he just knew he was going to win the tournament. And that confidence materialized into 37 hefty pounds of Largemouth crossing the scales over two days. Flipping a jig into milfoil pockets assembled a quick and easy 21 pound limit on the first day. Ironically, flipping a jig was what he gained the most experience in while exploring unfamiliar Minnesota waters. On Day 2, however, the wind picked up and the pressure mounted for a wire-to-wire victory. With unrelenting effort, he managed to boat another 16 pounds and secure the victory. His second day resolve is what is most memorable for Scott.

“The second day was really miserable; the weather was bad and the fish did not want to immediately cooperate. But, the thing that sticks out in my mind is that I gutted it out and caught a decent bag of fish. I really stuck with my original game plan rather than scrambling and running around and not catching another fish. I think fishing is all about decisions and timing. And, believing in what you are doing is a big, big part of it.”

Although a State Championship trophy might instantly make a favorite lake for many an angler, Scott contends that some of his favorites are the most diverse. As a successful past participant in the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship, he believes that the Rainy Lake smallmouth presents a unique challenge every year. It is for this reason that he especially enjoys exploring this boundary water.

Scott theorizes, “The Rainy Lake smallmouth are very different than they are in Minnesota or even out west. These are fish that feed on smelt which brings them out from the shoreline. And depending upon the week or day that we are up there, they may be in transition from their spawning areas and warmer bays to bigger basin areas. When they are out in the open, we have been able to refine techniques that target those particular fish. In short, what success we’ve had is looking at the ‘out and away’ smallmouth. They are hard to find, but once you find them, that is where they live. Instead of traveling miles and miles, they are going to hang within a certain area pretty well. Typically you’ll find that there is not just two of them there, there is two-hundred of them there, and that is the difference. If you go out and catch 15 or 20 of those fish a day, you will do really well. And those ‘out and away’ fish are usually the best fish in the system.”

On Sponsorship
Throughout his journey from California to Minnesota , Scott worked hard in developing the relationships that he has today with his current sponsors. That effort has opened his eyes to the habits and trends of both successful and unsuccessful anglers in the arena of sponsorship.

“I’ve met a lot of guys that are really good anglers, yet they struggle for sponsorship. Some think that if they are a great angler, the world will come to them. It just doesn’t work that way. Sponsors are always asking ‘What can you do for me?’ And so many anglers think the answer is, ‘I’m a great angler and I am going to catch a bunch of fish and win a ton of events.’ Sponsors really don’t care about that. Sure, they want to see consistency, but they are primarily looking for people that can promote their product and carry themselves professionally.”

On the converse, he has noticed that some tournament anglers seek sponsorship and sell themselves short. He notes that those anglers often let the allure of flashy decals, free T-shirts and product discounts cloud their minds. And, this may actually make their journey in reaching the next level of tournament angling more difficult, as an angler will start to believe that sponsorship opportunities are limited in this capacity. He also contends that assembling a creative business plan is the most effective way to gain a potential sponsor’s immediate attention.

“If you sit down and put a business plan together for a sponsor, and share with them your plan to market their product. And say, ‘Look, here’s what I am willing to do for your product, how I will be getting your product into new markets, and my plan to gain publicity for it,’ you will get a lot more out of that opportunity down the road. Those companies will see that you are sincere. They will see that you care. And, they will see that you are not in it just for yourself.”

Fuji Film was a pioneer in the fishing industry as one of the first non-endemic companies to assemble a national angling team. Scott’s participation on that team reinforces his belief that the future of fishing sponsorship lies with companies not directly involved with fishing. Banking, food, water, energy, and fuel companies are just a few types that he believes are largely untapped by anglers seeking financial sponsorship.

Beyond the Bass
Off the water, Scott’s additional successes are evident in the form of authored articles, educational seminars, and as an active member of many community organizations. Scott is a past president of the Minnesota Bass Federation, a regular contributor to the FLW Outdoors “for kids” magazine inset, and a KFAN / St. Jude Hospital tournament committee member. He has been actively involved in each one of those organization for several years. That participation, service and leadership is well known – perhaps even more so than that certain green and white Fuji Film Ranger racing across the water – and possibly more impressive than any angling accomplishment he could ever achieve on the water…

Current Sponsors
Fuji Film, Ranger Boats, Mercury Outboards, Rapala, Frankies Marine, Friendly Chevrolet, MinnKota, Humminbird, Northland Tackle, All-Terrain Tackle, Skirts Plus.