Most of us have spent a few sleepless nights in our lifetime. Parenthood is probably the leading cause; stress in the workplace another. Occasionally, a girl can keep a guy staring at the ceiling all night.
As I laid in bed pondering my situation, I felt fortunate to again be tossing and turning out of the pure anticipation for an adventure yet to begin. Now 2:30 a.m., I was just a few short hours away from an epic bass trip. I vividly remembered this same feeling overwhelming me at the age of 12. Yet, here I was again, 30 years later, a veteran of thousands of fishing and hunting outings, just as excited as ever.
My destination for the day would be the same locales it was when Florida bass fishing was just a childhood dream. The remote river far removed from Disney World and free orange juice, a place only describable as desolate, where metal-flake bass boats are considered overkill. A place where manatees gently swim by as the jungle birds roar. Some of the state’s last frontier, luckily still protected by the forward thinking of generations ago, long before development became the most important thing in the world.
Now 3:15, I decided to just go ahead and get up. The alarm was due to go off in a little while and, besides, I had a lunch to pack and breakfast to consider. Despite the anticipation and carless desire of an obsessed child, I’ve found it necessary to get my things in order a little better each morning as an adult. Things like hydration and fiber have somehow moved up life’s list.
Slumped in a chair at the kitchen table, I ate a bagel and browsed a few websites. All my favorites reported the bass fishing news of the day: tournament results and statistics, with a few sidebars on new products. Nowhere did I read anything that described the purpose for my early rise, or the fascination behind my restless night.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with an old friend at the recent ICAST show. We talked of the influence of the pioneers of our sport, and how, for much of our lifetime, those individuals seemed so important to the bass fishing public. Men like Buck Perry – practically the inventor of offshore structure fishing for bass – as well as guys like Al Lindner, Billy Westmoreland and Bill Murphy. While some briefly fished tournaments, they made their names through innovation balanced with obsession, taking us on their groundbreaking journey through print and television.
For me, the person who played that role was Doug Hannon. While I once dissected all the contributions of the others (I actually memorized Murphy’s famous book, "In Pursuit of Giant Bass"), Hannon stood alone as a visionary of my personal fascination with giant Florida largemouth, living in this fabled big-bass belt. Here he studied and filmed the fish in their original, native habitat.
Embarrassingly, I still own those films, available only on VHS, and had played them the evening before on an antiquated VCR I purchased online. Perhaps that's what kept me up half the night.
In any case, it seems bass fishing has lost a bit of such lore. Where we once had influence from several sides, including those who fished for reasons other than money, we’ve now become so obsessed with competition that little else seems to matter.
I partially blame the media, of which I guess I’ve become a member. Absent from the pages of our favorite magazines and websites is any mention of a master angler without his tournament stats following close behind. In fact, unless an angler fishes the nation’s top pro tours, it’s hard to find any reference to him at all these days.
The chat with my buddy confirmed I wasn’t alone in wondering where we were headed. “The newcomers will know the techniques” he said “but they’ll never realize where they came from.”
But back before all this, there was an allegiance of anglers; fishermen and fans alike, who looked up to the Buck Perrys of the world, or the Doug Hannons. We learned from them, creating an understanding and enjoyment from fishing that didn’t rely on finishing atop the leaderboard.
It’s this same aspect of fishing that keeps myself and others up at night, yet we hear so little about it. Am I alone in thinking that the industry – from the press to the sponsors to the fans – has allowed tournament performance to overshadow the whole reason many of us began bass fishing in the first place?
Decades before the shaky-head, the Lindner boys were fishing jigworms on structure. Buck Perry found creek channels without a side-imager, convincing us all that the true bounty lived offshore. And Doug Hannon sat in his workshop, tinkering with an audio device to replicate the sounds of feeding fish – 40 years before tournament pros were gobbling up HydroWave endorsements.
Have we lost a little?
I never caught a bass that day. Later that night, I again laid awake, obsessed with finding out where I went wrong.
(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.)