Chris Costello makes his living as an electrician but he hasn’t given up his dream of being a top pro fisherman.
The 50-year-old lifelong Gilroy resident is enjoying his best run of success as a pro, finishing fifth in the WON Bass California Open at Clear Lake June 7-9. He took home $7,000 in prize money but more importantly the finish only confirmed to Costello that he has the skills and drive to make it big in the Major League Fishing national region circuit, the sport’s biggest stage.
Those competitions are broadcast every weekend on the Outdoor Channel, one of the indications of just how far the sport has come. Costello said the top pros earn $3-$4 million a year but plenty of others can earn a living competing in MLF’s top pro leagues.
“It’s getting pretty big the older I get where people can now do it for a living,” said Costello, who won a smaller tournament, Newjen Bass, five days before the event at Clear Lake with Herbie Leblanc. “Now they have huge sponsors: Chevy, Ford, Pepsi, Red Bull, so the younger kids are starting out pro at 19 to 20 years old and now they have college fishing, which is pretty wild. If they would’ve had that 20 years ago, I could’ve followed that path. I would’ve stayed in college.”
Costello is a Gilroy High graduate and attended Gavilan College before he started working as an electrician at Costello Electric, a family-owned business started by his father, Vince. Chris and his brother Tom have since taken over the business which continues to do well.
The money and flexibility that Chris has allows him the necessary time and travel it takes to compete professionally in his true passion: fishing. Costello started to hook, line and sinker at an early age, having been taught the nuances of fishing by his grandfather, Tom Mangano, and Vince.
Tom, who has since passed away, and Vince gave Chris valuable fishing lessons at Coyote Lake, a place they frequented literally thousands of times over the years because that’s where three generations of the family have lived and where Chris still resides.
“That’s how I started fishing but I never thought it would escalate like this,” Costello said, referring to the changing dynamics and innovations in the sport. “Everything is hi-tech and calculated out. You’ve got high performance boats—my bass boat goes 80 mph—you get to spots fast but fish real slow and then keep moving from point A to point B.”
Like any sport, fishing involves patience, diligence and strategy. Costello’s description of his performance in the WON Bass tournament is a testament to that. The event was a three-day competition where competitors catch as many bass as they can from 6am to 3pm.
But their day actually starts at 4am as they need to get up and get their equipment ready before heading out to the lake. At the end of each day, competitors bring their five biggest catches to the weigh-in scales and a total of 15 are counted for weight upon the tournament’s completion.
Costello finished fifth with a combined weight of 59.31 pounds. Competitors need to bring their catches alive so Costello has a huge holding tank in his boat.
“They all get weighed alive and then are let loose because it’s catch and release for conservation [purposes],” he said. “So none of our fish get killed.”
Costello said he was apprehensive as the final weigh-in numbers were tallied.
“You’re up on stage and they make you sit in a chair while guys are coming behind you [with the totals],” he said. “It’s pretty nerve-wracking trying to guess what other guys have because you just don’t know, so it’s pretty stressful with a lot of emotion.”
The California Open featured the top 148 pros from the Western U.S. Even though a top five finish was a nice accomplishment, Costello said his Day Two performance wasn’t up to his standards.
“On Day Two I made some bad decisions, went to wrong places at wrong times, so a bad day on Day Two,” he said. “It’s all about making three days of good decisions so I was a little disappointed. But anyone who gets fifth out of 150, it’s a great accomplishment but a little disappointment because I thought I was close to winning, too.”
Even though the event was a three-day competition, Costello actually got to Clear Lake five days before the start to scope out the lake and “try to find where the fish are.” Pro anglers have electronics on their boat that help them find bass and they go to every part of the lake beforehand to find “nice water,” or the areas most conducive to catch bass.
“You want to eliminate parts of the lake so during the tournament you know where to go and don’t waste time,” Costello said.
Fishing rewards the ones who are persistent and determined. Costello said he used artificial lures and is casting a line every two minutes all day long.
“You’re making roughly 1,000 casts in a tournament,” he said. “You [constantly] move the boat around and try to find bass in shallow water. It’s pretty interesting.”
Since Costello Electric has been a fixture in Gilroy for half a century, Chris is referred to by his friends and customers as the electrician-fisherman. Fishing keeps him young.
“I just turned 50 but I feel like I’m 18,” he said.
Chris counts his parents Vince and Mary as his biggest supporters, as they travel all across the U.S. to watch him in competition. And sponsors also are vital for an anglers’ success as they get provided equipment to help defray the costs that are required to compete in the sport.
Costello’s top sponsors include C&C Marine in Modesto, Coyote Bait and Tackle, Pline, Reaction Innovations, Mercury Marine, Ranger Boats, Diawa Fishing and Costello Electric. Within the next couple of years, Costello has a goal to fish full time in MLF’s regional circuit in the eastern U.S.
“The ones [competitions] back east have a lot bigger payout because there are a lot more lakes,” he said. “I’m going to try to take a couple of years off from working and fish back there full-time. Basically, you have to have money and time and the sponsorships. I have five sponsors and I’m trying to get them to kick in more money and basically it’s smooth sailing.”