Put a few hundred professional anglers and industry executives in a large room and what do you get? The annual National Professional Anglers Association (NPAA) conference! I just recently completed my 12th conference this past weekend and everything just keeps getting bigger and better. There’s room for you in this organization if you are a guide, charter boat captain, tournament angler (pro- or co-angler side), or a professional angler.

Great speakers headline each year’s conference. This year, Evinrude Pro Randall Tharp, Hall of Fame angler and Lindner-family legend Ron Lindner, and Ranger/Evinrude pro Tommy Skarlis were just three of the many signature presenters. They all shared messages centered around the sport of fishing, tied to the theme of “motivate and inspire.”

I always meet so many interesting people at this conference that I come away, well, motivated and inspired! The speakers and presenters accomplished their goal and carried the message forward another year.

As a group, we raised over $8,000 for the non-profit 501(c)(3) Future Angler Foundation, too, bringing more people (kids and adults) into fishing through education, awareness, and experiences.

Originally organized by tournament anglers passionate about the sport, today’s day-to-day administration is managed through an association management company. However, professional anglers fill all of the board seats and steer the mission of the organization. The NPAA wants to foster professionalism amongst “pro” anglers, even those pros who can’t give up their day jobs—at least not yet. Together, with all the industry sponsors (and there are a lot of them), we want to promote the sport of fishing. The conference runs from Friday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. to Sunday at noon, usually at a hotel near the Mall of America in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area of Minnesota, and is always set during the first weekend of January. The search is probably underway for a new venue as there isn’t enough room at the hotel anymore—all the breakout sessions are full!

Put the dates on your calendar for next year if you make your living through fishing (or want to), or work at a tackle or media company that depends on a healthy participation base for the sport.

Throughout the weekend, breakout sessions from several companies (boats, motors, tackle) highlight the upcoming year. Experienced pro anglers provide the younger ones with guidance and are there to answer questions about promotion, sponsorship, and professionalism. It’s a win-win for everyone.

A room full of professional anglers and there isn’t a tournament in the morning! This is one of the sessions during the NPAA conference last weekend.
A room full of professional anglers and there isn’t a tournament in the morning! This is one of the sessions during the NPAA conference last weekend.

There are over 600 members of the NPAA, but there just as easily could be 2,000 or more. “With the association management company able to handle the logistics of a larger organization now, we are poised to grow exponentially,” shared Pat Neu, the executive director of the NPAA, during his state-of-the-association address.

A reasonable annual membership fee of $100 and a conference registration that includes meals is a darn-right steal at $60. Don’t let the Northern location put off you anglers from other states, either. “We’re ready for the bass anglers and crappie anglers and others from around the country to get involved and we welcome them,” said Neu.

Last year, 80 members held 92 NPAA-sanctioned youth and family fishing clinics across the country, reaching thousands. Sharing a passion for the sport with others is part of the association’s outreach.

As a professional trade association, there are business benefits, with discounts from key tackle companies and insurance companies extended to members. However, I think the biggest benefit is getting to know like-minded folks without it being tournament time. These guys and gals might be fierce competitors in just a few months, but during the annual conference, there is camaraderie galore. It’s fun to see.

Friendships forged through the NPAA will last a lifetime. I met a young woman, a single parent with an eight-year-old son. She’s working as a volunteer right now as an outdoor mentor, teaching kids about fishing. She loves to fish and hopes a full-time job in the industry is around the corner. This year she will fish as a co-angler in some tournaments and will work hard to get equipped with a boat of her own to fulfill her dream one day.

Punctuating that young lady’s goal was Randall Tharp describing how he had won over 1.5 million dollars on fishing tournament stages.

They are both pros—one is just a little further down the path to success. The passion is the same, too, and the time spent together becomes incredibly powerful.

Fish on!

K.J. Houtman is the author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for eight- to 12-year-olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Her work is available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at fishonkidsbooks.com.

Images courtesy NPAA

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  • Dan Rusty Palmer

    Absolutely the most important membership I have ever paid and I owe my entire career to the conference, organization, sponsors, and the many fishing family members I have met along the way! Thanks for sharing this story, I hope more people find the incredible value added to their careers! Rusty