As a warm-up to fishing’s big show, over the next few weeks we’ll feature an inside look into Classic XLVII. Today I open my pocket-sized notepad to reveal insight gathered while on board the competitors’ boats during the heat of battle.
Next week, I’ll make my annual winning predictions and for Classic week itself – the day before competition begins – I’ll disclose a technology-based product to be revealed at this year’s event that has potential to change competitive fishing at every level.
Looking back at events past, I flipped through old notes and felt the memories rush in. Each year, at every stage of the Classic game, I carry with me a notebook to record my thoughts and the general feel of this incredibly important tournament. The Classic changes lives; often I can’t help but fight back the tears as I watch it unfold.
Often times the notes are simple thoughts or statements with little relevance to the outcome of the event. Yet review offers insight for years to come. Consider these excerpts:
> When you sit and watch someone fish – without fishing yourself – you get a unique perspective on what makes them so good. A competitor starts off just fishing, going down the bank, not relentlessly beating any one spot. He moves around and stays flexible. It reminds me more of a practice day than a tournament – and this is the morning of day 1 of the Classic. No wonder he’s won millions.
> I witnessed an angler have a tough day, missing a big fish early that just glanced his lure. He saw the fish and claimed it was in the 5-pound class. Later that day, the angler missed a few other good bites; unquestionably, he had the chance for a decent string. However, I had to chuckle when I overheard him on stage, claiming he “should have been leading” the tournament, and that he “lost a 25-pound bag." I guess we all do it.
> I’ve never understood why bass tournaments start so early. In order to catch a press bus to get to the lake, I’ve frequently had to wake before 3 a.m.. What would be the harm in having tournaments run from 9 to 5?
> One fishing millionaire told me: “What makes me successful is being consistent when I’m not doing well. When I don’t catch them, I do better than when other guys don’t catch them, and still scratch a check.”
> The Classic weigh-in has transformed over the years from something resembling a livestock auction to a high-tech performance. Recent video highlights showcasing the history of the event have been especially noteworthy. Weigh-masters have changed as well, each new emcee bringing his own unique personality to the position. While some have been better than others, none has ever compared to Ray Scott.
> While in the boat, I noticed a flock of gulls diving on bait, but stayed quiet. My paired competitor noticed the birds too, yet refused to give the location a try despite a tough day, instead relying on places where he had done well in practice. I doubt very much that same competitor would have ignored those birds in any other event.
> Without question, no other event carries the clout of the Classic. When held on premier Southern fisheries like Guntersville, for example, chase boats are everywhere in the morning – at every gas station and at every ramp. Thousands of people turn out in the pre-dawn darkness for the launch, regardless of weather. Any non-fishing observer would be baffled to find out this all centers around watching people fish. Sort of.
> The Classic outdoor show brings the best products to the forefront. However, in recent years I’ve noticed a downward shift in enthusiasm and customer service from those working the booths. Likely a factor of corporate America’s takeover of fishing, the good ol’ days of talking to lure designers, tech-savvy electronics gurus or boat designers at the show are dwindling. Last year, I watched as a hook manufacturer – touting the ease of a new knotting method – had no line on hand to demonstrate.
> At every Classic I’ve observed, I’ve watched as multiple fishermen share the same spot – often unknowingly – on multiple days. Often, several catch fish from that spot each day of the event.
> As the percentages would indicate, more competitors have poor days than good ones. Therefore, as an observer, I’m often paired with a man facing a strong dose of disappointment at the end of the day. I’ve found most of the top pros – those with the greatest accolades and longevity – shake it off quickly. Some simply get more motivated toward fishing, others retreat toward distractions. The best seem to focus on a solid foundation and home life.
Everything about the Classic is different. It’s our turn to show the world what we’re proud of: our enthusiasm for the outdoors and competitive bass fishing. We’re finally legit! And it's fun to be a part of it.
(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.)