Those who know me know I love professional bass fishing. I have enormous respect for those folks who put it all at riskâ€”family and financesâ€”to chase their dream.
The beauty in our sport has always been that an Alabama house framer such as Gerald Swindle can make it big in fishing because he wanted it that badly. Honestly, I worry if those days may be behind us.
Professional fishing needs a major injection. In my opinion, there are several things the industry could embrace to make it better.
Make fishing more affordable
Fishing at the professional level is becoming a rich man’s sport. We have to find ways to make it more affordable. Many hard working middle class people cannot afford $50,000 worth of entry fees, a new tow vehicle and the gear it takes to be successful. Without even making a cast, the price is too high.
To enter the game for high school anglers it takes a wad of moneyâ€”to become the best it takes even more. To dream it is one thing but to realize it is another. Even at the local level the price is out of bounds for many.
I think we need to develop some sort of tool kit for beginning anglers with the basic necessities they will need such as a rod, reel, line, hooks, weights, plastic and a few go-to baits to get them started. Getting the best can come later but we need “just good enough” to enter the game and make it more viable for the working man.
For example, when Skeet Reese came out with a rod under $100, I smiled. A kid could mow lawns, clean their room or do errands to save the money to get one. They didn’t have to take out a mortgage to get a quality fishing rod.
I have a theory about boats, too. I’ve had had a pile of them. Do we really need a 250 horsepower outboard and a 20-foot boat? Major League Fishing, 25 horsepower trails and horsepower-restricted lakes have proven that small can still be good.
Customization and imagination can build a boat that allows anyone to get on the water. My first one was a 12-foot Sea King but that dude was equipped. It had a Shakespeare hand drive 12-volt trolling motor, a garage sale Humminbird Super 60 Flasher and a 1965 10 horsepower Johnson outboard and you know what? I caught a ton of fish out of it. I took it to Florida, Kentucky Lake and I fished my local lakes with it. too. It was plenty good enough.
The more serious I got about fishing the more gadgets I wanted. I paid for all of it and by today’s standards is was a wash tub. We have to set expectations that align with our pocketbooks.
Don’t water down the Classic
I’m a major fan of professional bass fishing and it seems to me in the last few years we have seen the Classic road get watered down. I have made the Federation Championship, then called the Wrangler Nationals, and had a chance to be one of the five anglers to make the Classic. Not an easy road by any stretch but the competition level is not at the same level as the Elite Series.
Being the purist that I am, I believe the Classic should be reserved for the absolute best of the best. All other trails including the Opens, the Federation and the collegiate trail should lead to a chance to fish the Elite Series. They each should have their own championship, but not a direct route to the Classic. This notion will ruffle some feathers but for our sport to be a true championship-level sport with major media exposure, this has to happen.
More one-off events
For our sport to grow, fans must be front and center. We need more fun in fishing and it’s not always about tournaments. Anglers are big sponges and want as much information as they can get to help them catch more fish.
I have one regret with what we and others have done with high school fishing: The lack of sportsmanship and etiquette education. That is the part we missed and knowing the rules of the road on the water should be stressed. Teaching our youth the importance of honoring others’ water, how to share water and how to fish without cutting others anglers off has been overlooked. Ethics and integrity needs to be part of it.
No other sport gets the engagement with the athletes better than fishing. Watching pros interact with the fans is what makes this sport different from others. Professional anglers enjoy signing autographs and the pressure of top levels where that is more difficult makes one-off tournaments a must.
The relaxed atmosphere of these tournaments allow for fishing on smaller bodies of water and near more populated venues where attendance can be better than in rural settings. The youth movement is gaining momentum and these smaller field events are much more conducive for angler-fan interaction.
Both FLW and B.A.S.S. have an opportunity to do more with these types of tournaments due to the shorter fishing seasons. This is a great way to test no entry fee fishing and look for non-endemics and non-anglers to tap in. Golf has made it work and I believe we can as well.
Both have some work to do here. I didn’t get the B.A.S.S. Niagara River tournament: The top 8 from the tournament before and a Classic berth? I applaud the FLW Invitationals as a step in the right direction, but I believe the execution could have been better. How about doing a Top 25 or Top 50 from your trail?
Wouldn’t it be cool to see a retro event where the pro anglers compete on an unknown body of water in boats that have limited electronics and horsepower?
Minors and majors
Although the BFLs, the Opens, the new FLW Invitationals and the Federation are great training ground, we need more avenues for a minor league. Grass roots anglers buy their own stuff and are the lifeblood of fishing and dangling the carrot of being a professional by honing skills at the lower levels should be stressed. I believe some of best anglers in the country are not always those who fish at the top levels.
Also, I think B.A.S.S. and FLW should get on the same page with their schedules, in particular the Elites and the FLW Tour, so anglers can fish both high-end trails. Get together, sit down and align your schedules. It’s not hard.
It actually benefits both tours because it allows full-time professional anglers to have more events to fish. Venues would love to see that happen, the anglers would love to have more tournaments and the fans knowing you are working in concert would have more respect for each organization.
The “I’m taking my ball and going home” approach doesn’t seem to benefit anyone. Make it a goal; take off the cloak of silence and work together.
B.A.S.S. and FLW have a reputation of leaving fisheries with not only publicity but also money earmarked for the fishery itself. I have not heard much about that in recent years. It could be happening, but the fans should know about it.
Both organizations do a wonderful job with fish care but I have a suggestion.
B.A.S.S. and FLW charge the city, state or lake when they visit a fishery. They could earmark a bit of that money received for fish stocking, habitat or ramp improvements and publicize the heck out of it and follow the results. That’s awesome PR and it benefits everyone who uses that particular body of water.
Everything is cooking right along in the world of professional fishing and honestly it’s working pretty darn well. Can it be better? Sure. But here are a couple improvements that have certainly raised the bar.
I love the new Bassmaster Live. It’s addicting and Mark Zona and Tommy Sanders do a wonderful job analyzing and giving input. We all learn something with BASS Live and it makes us feel like we are in the boat with the angler; it should be mandatory viewing for high school and college anglers! No one is better at banter and fun than Dave Mercer and his ability to add to the story is noticed and appreciated. Bassmaster Live has been a shot in the arm to B.A.S.S. and those who follow it.
FLW loosening the sponsorship belt has been noted and appreciated both by the fans and the anglers. Allowing them to wear their own shirts with their sponsors and use their own boats is huge in my book. It was a huge step and one that will benefit them moving forward.
Professional bass fishing certainly has its place in the world of fishing. You might just love to fish for fun, but remember; just about every innovation with equipment got its roots in the pro game.
I applaud those of you who just like to fish and could care less about the competitive side of things. We need all of us to make fishing better. Honestly, it’s not so much about winning to me anymore as it is figuring out the puzzle. That does keep me competitive but just being on the water and enjoying the outdoors is important, too.
If you tournament fish, respect those who don’t and if you don’t tournament fish, understand those who do. Respect the game!
As Toyota angler and one our best ambassadors Gerald Swindle says, “I just love to bass fish.”