By Chris Whitfield
Since age 5, Rocky Face’s Derek Hicks has dreamed of nothing else but being a professional fisherman. Since 2006, he has been involved in trying to turn his love and greatest hobby into a full-time career as a pro on the Walmart FLW Tour.
Lately, he has seen some encouraging signs.
Hicks recently finished ninth in the FLW EverStart Series’ Southeast Division tournament on Lake Guntersville in Alabama. Hicks finished the three-day tournament with a haul of 15 bass that weighed in at 60 pounds, 9 ounces; he claimed nearly $4,000 in prize money while competing in a field of nearly 150 professional anglers.
It was the fifth top-10 finish in his career through various levels of pro fishing and increased his career earnings to $53,569.
“I think I am getting better at the mental aspect of it and the confidence you need to fish with the best professionals in the world,” Hicks said this weeke during an interview at his family’s business, Whitfield Electric Motor Sales and Service.
“You are going up against guys who have won millions in their career, and it can be, and is, a little intimidating.
“I have always tried to work at it. It hasn’t been handed to me, but I just have to keep working. There is no substitute for experience and time on the water.”
According to the FLW website, the EverStart series offers regional pros the chance to gain the experience necessary to advance to the FLW Tour. The equivalent of the fishing minor leagues, the EverStart Series consists of five divisions — Central, Northern, Southeast, Texas and Western. Each division consists of four tournaments where competitors fish for valuable points in each division that could help them earn the Angler of the Year title.
The top 40 pros from each division also qualify for the EverStart Series Championship.
Hicks has qualified for the Series Championship, which is scheduled for November in Monroe, La. It will be his fourth trip to the Series Championship; his previous best finish in the Southeast series was 16th in 2009. After four Southeast division tournaments this year, Hicks took 15th in the standings, with a pair of top-25 finishes and total earnings of $6,373. In March he was 22nd in a tournament at Lake Seminole in Bainbridge.
The last thing you probably think of when it comes to fishing is an injury, but Hicks has been hampered by an elbow problem that has challenged him in many ways. While doctors have told him before that options such as Tommy John surgery (ligament replacement) may be needed in the future, Hicks has been undergoing treatment with injections of platelet-rich plasma directly into the elbow.
“Last year was really a struggle with some arm problems,” Hicks said. “It is kind of aggravating. You cast so much with your arm and your wrist, and that is what caused it all. Fishing can be rough on your body. People think you are just sitting in a boat all day with a cold beer out in the sun. That isn’t the way things are.
“People don’t realize how physically demanding it can be to be on a lake from sunup to sundown, and then you are constantly on the road going from one tournament to the next. It wears on your body after a while.”
It is also a drain on his resources. While he has sponsorships from Dalton Marine, Ranger, Mercury and Soddy Custom Bait and Tackle, he is looking into wrapping his truck and boat in advertising to convert into a rolling billboard in order to secure more financing.
“If it wasn’t for the support I have received from my family, I would have never been able to do this,” he said. “It is extremely hard to find a sponsor. If you can sell and sell yourself, you can get a sponsor, but it is tough.”