Rhinelander man?s love of fishing turns into a career
When Ryan Jirik started fishing at the age of 3, no one could have guessed it would take him all the way to fishing as a Cabela’s Walleye Pro. By the age of nine, though, it was obvious to his dad he was really serious about it. He couldn’t wait to take boater’s safety when he turned 12 so he could operate a boat himself.
“My dad saw I had such a passion for the sport, he suggested I try guiding,” Jirik said. “I wasn’t allowed to purchase a guiding license due to my age, but we got approval from the two game wardens that would possibly check me, to guide through the bait shop where I worked.” This only enhanced Jirik’s love of fishing. He took seven clients out in that first year through an ad placed in the newspaper. He continued his guiding career until he went away to college.
His tournament fishing career started at the age of 14. He got into a bass tournament with a friend of his dad’s. “We only caught two fish,” Jirik remembers, “but I quickly realized the mistakes I had made and knew that I had to come back the next year because I was determined to do better.” In fact he did improve his performance the next year. He also fished his first walleye tournament with his dad that next year and they placed 6th. This tournament experience served as fuel to the fire of his fishing career. After that he and his dad continued to fish come of the closer walleye tournaments.
Jirik stated that he gravitated toward walleye fishing with the help and influence of his dad, but that he has fished competitively for several different species. He has fished many bass tournaments over the years, and even one musky tournament.
In speaking about fishing for these other species Jirik stated, “The neat thing is, fishing for other species really gives an additional perspective on techniques and locations to catch your favorite species. Have incorporated so many ideas from bass fishing into my walleye arsenal that I know it has helped me catch more walleyes.”
The road to becoming a Cabela’s Pro on the Walleye Trail was not an easy one, but Jirik’s determination pulled him to the top ranks of the walleye fishing world. There were several obstacles along the way, both internal and external.
“When I started out,” Jirik smiled, “I was extremely nervous that my skill level wouldn’t have a chance against the veterans of the sport. Occasionally, though I started to see my name in the standings above some of those veterans and I realized I had to stop wasting my energy worrying about them and start worrying about catching fish.” Jirik has always been very down-to-earth in his approach to his fishing, never one to be seen bragging or showboating at the launch ramp. He has always been a head-down, working-hard type of fisherman. Perhaps due to his modest manner, the challenge of jumping in head first and fishing at the pro level was a bit daunting. Because fishing is an expensive sport, he worried, at the outset, that he may invest large sums of money only to find out later that he wasn’t capable of success in the sport. With great support from his dad, Tom, he was able to test the waters. He was even able to borrow Tom’s boat for a season.
Ryan has several sponsors now including: Team Walleye Bite, Cabela’s, Ranger Boars, Evinrude, Offshore Tackle, Downriver Tackle, Elk River Custom Rods, Lucky Craft, Team Outdoors, and even local
Rhinelander’s Shoeder’s Marine. These sponsors were not easy to come by, though. He grew up watching the professionals and seeing the sponsorships they had. When he went to secure sponsorships of his own, he realized how difficult it could be.
“For me and my lack of experience, though, I had to work hard to get what I got. I started out small and traded time at sport shows for equipment. Sponsorships have tightened up in the last ten years and the way I started out was the way it is today for the most part.” Jirik always has great things to say about his sponsors, and he is definitely appreciative for all they do for him, often stating that he could not do what he does without them.
Jirik fishes one Master’s Walleye Series tournament every year in the spring with his dad, Tom, but also fishes the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour on the pro side. He truly enjoys both formats. With the National Walleye Tour, he is paired with a different co-angler each day and enjoys imparting his knowledge and helping co-anglers learn more about the sport. He has built a network of people on this trail who work together to help breakdown the bigger waters they fish during practice. On tournament day, though, the gloves come off and it’s every angler for himself.
“I absolutely love it when I can go in with a plan and adjust that plan throughout the day to come out on top.” He stated this can also be the most difficult thing for him. When adjustments don’t pay off or a seemingly solid plan unravels on tournament day, it can be nerve-wracking. This is one reason he enjoys the Master’s Walleye Tournament that he fishes with his dad every year. He states their thoughts on the water complement each other very well, and that makes for great decision-making. While that is important, the younger Jirik states that spending time with his dad is the most important part of that tournament. For the Jirik’s fishing is a way to spend time together outdoors – not only enjoying the sport, but enjoying each other. He often mentions how lucky he is to have a wife and family that are so supportive and understanding.
Jirik stated that part of his love of fishing is introducing the sport to others. He is a member of the National Professional Anglers Association which conducts youth fishing clinics at the professional level. He also volunteers at local youth fishing clinics when he is available, spurring the interest of the next generation of anglers. He has also helped with Fishing Has No Boundaries events as well as with the Northwoods Chapter of the Let’s Go Fishing organization. This is the first chapter in Wisconsin and it offers fishing excursions to the elderly, youth, and veterans in the area. He enjoys teaching fishing techniques, fishing as a sport and hobby, as well as stewardship of the waterways. He truly understands the role of conservation in the sport of fishing and is always willing to talk with others about how that plays an important role in even the highest levels of tournament fishing. Any angler who happens to see Jirik’s Cabela’s-wrapped boat at the launch ramp of an area lake would do well to take a minute or two to talk with him, to learn from him, and to simply enjoy great conversation with one of the most down-to-earth tournament anglers around.