Guido Hibdon never thought he would see this day, when he would have to scrap for sponsors, when he wondered if there was going to be enough money to even compete on the pro bass circuit.
It wasn’t like that in the 1980s and 1990s when he was building a resume as one of the greatest bass fishermen to ever make a cast. He won the Bassmaster Classic in 1988 and the BASS Angler of the Year Award in 1990 and 1991. When his son Dion followed in his footsteps and won both the Bassmaster Classic and the FLW Forrest Wood Cup, the sport’s highest honors, sponsors flocked to Team Hibdon.
Father and son were members of Daiwa’s Dream Team and they were fishing celebrities, not only here but in other countries such as Japan and Spain.
“We didn’t have much to worry about in those days,” said Guido Hibdon who will be the featured speaker at the Kansas City Boat and Sportshow this week.
But how things have changed. The fishing industry started promoting its young guns, the flamboyant pros who appealed to the younger generation, and it came out with extravagant reels, rods and boats with a higher price point. The hidden message: If it costs this much, it has to be good.
And old pros like Guido and Dion have been, for the most part, forgotten.
“What you’ve done in the past doesn’t mean anything anymore,” said Guido, 68, who lives at Lake of the Ozarks. “It’s a whole different breed out there.
“One sponsor told me, ‘I can get 10 of these other pros for what you would cost me.’ ”
To be fair, the Hibdons’ performance has dropped off in recent years. Guido has concentrated on getting his grandson, Payden, established on the FLW pro tour. And Dion has dealt with some life-changing personal issues.
The Hibdons hit rock bottom during a two-day period late last fall. First, Chevy announced that it was getting out of the pro fishing game, taking away Dion’s title sponsor. A day later, Guido learned that one of his main sponsors, Luck-E-Strike Lures, was sold and the pro staff was reconfigured, dropping Hibdon.
It was a crushing blow, considering that those two sponsors provided much of Team Hibdon’s money for expensive entry fees on the FLW Tour.
“It costs the three of us almost $70,000 in entry fees alone,” Guido said. “Then you have expenses on the road.
“We still have some great sponsors like Ranger Boats and Evinrude, but it’s still tough.”
A friend stepped forward and gave the Hibdons the down payment for the season’s FLW entry fees, and the three fishermen are on the pro circuit’s 2015 roster. But that doesn’t ensure that they will be competing for the entire season, Guido said.
“Being very truthful, it’s up in the air,” he said. “All I know is, I want to go out on my terms, not because of something like this.”
The Hibdons are a tight-knit family, and they have a one-for-all approach. They are a team both on the water and on the business side. That means that the family has bankrolled much of Payden’s expenses as he gets started.
Payden has struggled to get established on the FLW Tour, but grandpa still has faith in him.
“Payden’s a great fisherman, but he gets intimidated when he gets around all these big names,” Guido said. “I’m working to get him to believe in himself.”
Understand, Guido isn’t looking for pity or handouts. He’s been in this game long enough to know how the financial side works. It’s a competitive market for pro fishermen seeking sponsors these days, and companies are cutting back, paring their pro staffs or dropping their programs all together.
But he knows he, his son and his grandson still have a place in the game. His wife Stella, firmly believes it too.
“If it weren’t for guys like Guido, Roland Martin and Jimmy Houston, there wouldn’t be pro bass fishing like it is today,” she said. “But when these guys get older, they’re just kind of forgotten.