In a recent post on the Bassmaster website, Mike Iaconelli lashes out at bass fishing “jerks” who follow Elite pros around, bound and determined to fish the pros' selected water during and after tournaments. It's a very poignant piece, deserving additional discussion.
Throughout, Iaconelli is careful to discern between the jerks and those enjoying the water in a way he finds appropriate. These include tournament observers, vacationers, grandparents and lakeside residents. Unlike these recreationalists, the jerks are simply there to move in on the pros and steal their fish, Iaconelli claims.
It’s obvious one of bass fishing’s most charismatic figures wasn’t feeling too chipper when he penned the piece. Normally a proponent for all walks of life, Iaconelli was on a witch hunt; a recent run-in obviously had his jerk meter pegged to the max.
But is he justified?
The overall fan base of bass fishing has increased in recent years due to a number of factors. In a post-911 America, we have witnessed resurgence in family activities that center on homegrown feel; things like fishing and camping seeing an overall rise in popularity. That, combined with a stabilized economy and low gasoline prices, have equated to more people being on the water. In addition, major tournament organizations, led recently by Bassmaster, have greatly increased exposure of high-level tournaments and their athletes.
As fans, the vast majority of us are well aware when a big derby is in town, and select to stay out of the way of the pros. However, although it may be difficult for household names like Iaconelli to understand, not every basser gets the memo.
Believe it or not, there’s still a core group of anglers who couldn’t care less about weigh-in festivals, wrapped boats or the over-animated antics of the pros who fish from them. For these guys, bass fishing is a pastime dominated by conservative, hard-working men who don’t need the spotlight, and certainly don’t perform a celebration when they catch a bass.
Many fished the lakes long before the arrival of national tournament trials, and will fish long after they’re gone. And, as surprising as it may seem, they don’t really care if you’re in a tournament.
But Iaconelli’s article brings up a good point, and one we’ll likely have to address more in the future: user conflicts.
Big-time bass fishing is unlike nearly any other professional sport, in that the competitive arena is public property. Augusta closes for the Masters, no one’s out driving at Daytona Speedway, and only the Packers play at Lambeau Field. Yet pro bass anglers continually face the possibility that, at any time, any random person can ruin their day. In fact, Iaconelli interjects that, for some anglers, such could end a career.
So what’s the solution?
It may come as a surprise to learn that, for many years, back-room discussions have taken place about the possibility of holding bass tournaments on private waters. I, for one, always felt this would be a great idea. Imagine events on custom-designed, lunker-filled lakes featuring a variety of fishing conditions.
Such waterways could be built to better accommodate the fans: lakeside seating, observation docks, even on-the-water fan flotillas with a bar and water taxi. Far-fetched? Maybe.
But remember, the original Mega Bucks concept was one introduced by bass fishing visionary Ray Scott in order to increase fan exposure through a hole-fishing course, similar to that of golf. I’m sure that, in the original planning stage, the thought of fans lining the banks similar to those lining the fairway was the intention.
A small, structured course with considerable fan considerations seems like a strong idea. Many ideal bodies of water already exist; managed by a small lakeside community with complete jurisdiction to open and close the water as they wish. They’d be perfect.
The point is to remove the potential impact caused by outside sources that aren’t fair to all competitors. Again using golf as an example: if my ball lands in a divot hole, that’s just bad luck. If a guy comes over and kicks it in the lake, that’s just absurd.
Will we see the day of private waters? Do we need to?
Several years ago, “celebrity” events, known as Eagles of Angling tournaments, were carried out on Ray Scott’s private lake. Such paired a big-name pro with an industry VIP or prominent politician; in fact, I remember a U.S. President or two competing. And, while these were no cutthroat Elite Events, the competition still made for some great television footage. Watching Rick Clunn compete against Denny Brauer on a lake filled with aggressive, monster bass never gets old. In fact, Clunn’s largest competitive catch came from one of these events: a goliath approaching 14 pounds.
Opponents of such measures claim that bass fishing should be carried out on public waters; the legitimacy of the pros' catches increased by doing so on a lake we can all try. However, I don’t need Dale Jr. to race down my street to know he’s a good driver.
I’m not sure what the outcome will be, but perhaps we’re in a time when the discussion of private waters will again come up. Judging by the direction of our topic in Iaconelli’s piece, I’m sure many of the pros would be all for it. As a fan, would you?
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)