If there’s one thing that’s readily apparent about Joe Bucher, it’s that he doesn’t do anything halfway. A drive for excellence and a passion for what he does has helped make his name synonymous with fishing.
Although the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame member lives in Eagle River, his television show, Fishing with Joe Bucher, and his very name are familiar to anglers across the country.
Over the years, he has become established as one of the country’s foremost authorities on multispecies sport fishing and he has built what can be described as an empire, one that’s comprised of not only a popular and award-winning television show, but also a line of fishing products and accessories, and success as a writer and speaker at sport shows and fishing seminars. It seems likely that many of Bucher’s fans dream of making a living as he does-enjoying the great outdoors. In truth, it takes a lot of business acumen, flexibility and creativity to build and successfully maintain a livelihood doing something one enjoys. It’s a rare person indeed who finds a way to make a living doing the things he or she loves, but as Joe Bucher proves, it’s possible for a creative, savvy business person to pull it off.
So how did he manage to turn his love of fishing into a livelihood?
“I was always crazy about fishing since I was a youngster,” Bucher says, “but didn’t actively seek it out as an occupation.” Instead, he enrolled at UW-Stevens Point, intent on earning a degree in fisheries management. After realizing that wasn’t the right path for him, he took a summer job as a fishing guide and ended up staying with it for more than 20 years. He also found that he possessed some serious business instincts. “While I didn’t make much money at it, it did challenge me to learn more and innovate various equipment to accommodate my style of fishing,” he recalls. “I also began the learning curve of business promotion in order to keep my calendar booked.” Branching out into writing about fishing for he explains, helped him keep his guide calendar booked. His talent for writing led him to create Musky Hunter magazine, which is still headquartered in St. Germain and for which he now serves as editor emeritus.
Like any good entrepreneur, Bucher saw a need and addressed it. Early in his tenure as a fishing guide, Bucher noticed that muskies were burning through tackle. “Almost all the lures were made of wood,” he says. “Commercially available leaders were of low quality. Yet these big, toothy fish (muskies) were destroying this tackle in short order.” He began tinkering with different designs and materials, looking to create lures that would hold up to the big game fish. He constructed lures for his own use, sharing them with his customers, who, in time, wanted to buy Bucher’s durable lures.
“One of my guiding customers actually named my first lure ‘The Buchertail,'” he recalls. “In short order, the local retailers were requesting a few to sell in their stores. Twenty years later, we had over three dozen products and were doing over a million in sales.”
His experience, knowledge and innovative spirit helped position him as an authority on fishing for muskies and for other species, and he found himself entering the world of television.
“I was a guest guide on many other TV shows such as Andy Andel Fishing, Earl (Gillespie) Goes Fishing, Midwest Outdoors, The In Fisherman, Babe Winkleman’s Good Fishing and Fishing with Roland Martin,” Bucher recalls. “While doing a segment with Roland Martin in the late 1980s, Roland encouraged me to get into TV. It took a few more years before I really took that step, but in 1990, the first episode of Fishing with Joe Bucher hit the airwaves.”
The show enjoys a loyal following and has won video production awards for its videography, editing and on-camera talent. Among its hallmarks are its underwater footage, multicamera shots and the fact that episodes are shot on lakes with public access. Each year, 13 new episodes are produced. Episodes are comprised of numerous individual segments, and the segments are about three to seven minutes in length. “We produce a multi-species, multi-segment format,” Bucher says. “This makes the show appealing to a much larger overall audience and keeps the show moving at warp speed.”
After more than two decades, he still hasn’t tired of hosting Fishing with Joe Bucher. Besides the actual fishing he does on the show, he also enjoys producing it. “It’s one thing to simply catch a big fish,” he says. “It’s quite another to capture it all on film using multiple camera angles and then produce an exciting action sequence for TV.” The tough part of having his own show is the financial aspect. “No matter how good one is at catching fish or hosting a program,” Bucher says, “none of it matters if you can’t get sponsorship to pay for it.” A lack of funding, he adds, is why most outdoor television shows don’t stay on the air more than a few years.
Somehow, he also makes time to indulge in another passion-music. Bucher himself plays the guitar heard on his show. He and his blues band, the TopRaiders (which also includes Bill Truebenbach, Joe Fittante and Wayne Hicks), also play live shows and headline at the annual Joe Bucher Blues Fest in St. Germain, an event that benefits youth football and cheerleading organizations at Northland Pines High School in Eagle River.
Bucher hasn’t lost his sense of what’s really important, even after all the accolades. The biggest musky he ever caught was 551/2 inches, but that fi shing trip isn’t the one that stands out in his memory. “You might first think it would be one of my big musky catches, but honestly, the ones that come to mind
first are my early boyhood days fishing with my grandpa and my dad,” Bucher says. “If they wouldn’t have taken me fishing when I was a kid, none of this would ever have happened.
Passing on this fishing tradition is vital. “My son caught his biggest musky recently on a TV episode with me. Every day I get to fish with my grandson is special. My two little granddaughters, 2 years old and 41/2 years old, each caught their first fish this past summer. They were tiny little bluegills, but you would never have known that by the excitement in their voices.”
Even though fishing is a passion that Bucher has harbored since his childhood, and one he happily shares with his grandchildren, it’s also a business, and he has the ability to treat it as such.
“Starting your own business from scratch requires guts and commitment,” he says. “There are no limits to what you can do. You simply have to go after it. However, fishing as a business is much more than catching fish. There are a lot of really good anglers out there who can’t make a living at it simply because they lack basic business skills.”
As in so many other fields, a degree helps. “I’d suggest getting a degree in business or economics. A minor in English isn’t a bad idea, either. It takes a combination of skills along with some business savvy to really make it happen.”
A nine-to-five schedule isn’t an option for someone running a business, he notes, and entrepreneurs can expect to work harder than everyone around them.
“Expect lots of disappointments and rejections, too,” Bucher says. “But when things start moving in the right direction, put the pedal down and go for it!”
For more information, log on to joebucheroutdoors.com.