Fishing, for most people, is an enjoyable pastime. For Tom Rowland, fishing is all-consuming; something to be constantly studied, practiced, analyzed and refined.
All the while, he’s fully aware that perfection is unattainable and that the knowledge of fishing that can be discovered outweighs any human’s capacity to gather and process it. And yet, Rowland strives every day for perfection and to learn as much as possible.
Rowland’s way is not for everyone, but he truly cannot fathom another approach to fishing, or any other aspect of his life, for that matter.
“To be quite honest, I'm not exactly sure I know where the obsession comes from,” said Rowland, a Mercury Pro Team member who runs a Yellowfin 24 Bay CE powered by a 350hp Mercury Verado® engine. “I don't know necessarily why, and I couldn't really tell someone how to develop it, but it’s there. I see it in other people as well, and I see it missing in some people.
“I think a lot of wanting to be the best saltwater fisherman – and guide and tournament angler – that I could possibly be is really a lot of other things added up, like wanting to be the best person that I could possibly be.”
Rowland’s pursuit of fishing represents a lifetime of learning new sets of skills. Though he’s now based in Islamorada, Florida, he grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, fishing with his father, Tom Sr. He eventually moved west and became a drift boat guide based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. After seven seasons of shepherding clients fly-fishing for trout, he changed paths to try his hand at saltwater angling in Key West. True to his meticulous nature, Rowland had the foresight and discipline to spend a full year learning the water and various saltwater techniques before he ever sought a paying customer.
Later, once his guide business was established, Rowland shifted his pursuit of knowledge and mastery to competitive casting, tournament angling and other related contests. He enjoyed success in that area as well, including pulling in a gold and a silver medal at the inaugural ESPN Great Outdoor Games in 2000 in Lake Placid, New York. Since 1997, he has notched a championship, a division title or a top-five finish more than 65 times in freshwater and saltwater tournaments against international competition, using both fly-fishing and conventional tackle.
Rowland eventually found himself competing nationally in two-man team redfish tournaments with fellow Keys angler Rich Tudor. The travel involved was taxing, however, and after Rowland watched helplessly from a tournament in Louisiana while a hurricane barreled down on his family in Key West, he decided to step away from tournament fishing. His wife and two young sons escaped harm, but Rowland had already made his decision to pursue another path. On the way home, he and Tudor contemplated their next move and berthed the idea for their “Saltwater Experience” television program. Seventeen years later they’re still together and cranking out about a dozen episodes each year.
Rowland, 51, and his wife, Cynthia, have three children: sons Turner, 22, and Hayden, 20, and daughter Hanna, 16. As a devoted family man, he spends as much time with his wife and kids as possible. They share a love for the outdoors, fishing and conservation. He’s also an avid podcaster – his show is called the “Tom Rowland Podcast” – and conducts demonstrations and speaking engagements several times each year.
With all the accolades and accomplishments behind him, Rowland has a well-earned reputation as an expert, but he said he’s not even close to finishing his fishing education.
“I think I'm just getting started, honestly,” he said. “We haven't even scratched the surface of what there is to do, and it seems like there's just a tremendous amount left to learn. Each day that we go out there is different. I mean, you see something new every day. And about the time that you feel like you’ve really got this thing kind of figured out, you’ll see something or learn something – just a little piece of knowledge – and it makes you realize, man, I don't think we know anything. Then you start the whole educational process over again.
“And I like to keep it that way. I think it would be very boring if you really did know it all. I honestly think the opposite: I think that I only know a very, very small amount of what there is to know out there. Every day and every year, we learn more, and that's what's exciting to me.”