I’m stunned at how times have changed. Again.
In the early 2000s, I spent a morning riding around Lake St. Clair looking for tournament fishermen. The Canadian Open bass event was in town and I was determined to learn all I could of the secret locations and techniques used by the North Country’s best anglers. Try as I may, however, I never found any of the leaders. Relentlessly battered by power-boaters and jet skis, I decided to call it quits around noon.
I felt the urge for enlightenment again recently when the FLW Tour visited Lake Okeechobee. This time, however, I never left my living room; instead, I logged on to FLW Live, refilled my glass of tea and entered a different universe.
Within 10 minutes, I knew the dominant pattern each of the leaders were using to dissect the Big O; a half-hour later, I recognized the approximate location of the tournament’s winning stringer. In between, I even picked up a tip on the importance of selecting healthy vegetation and “clean mats.”
Now I know this live coverage isn’t anything new; in the past, I’ve touched on the monumental shift in information being offered to bass anglers across the board. But it’s sure changing the game.
In order to remain competitive, tournament anglers will need to change with it. In addition, tournament organizations could stand to improve their approach, as they’re likely to soon find themselves in a heated battle for the No. 1 spot.
Getting back to the recent FLW coverage, much of the progression in this arena has to do with the volume of coverage itself. Think about it: not long ago, the entirety of television coverage for a major tournament was condensed into one single hour. Most of that was simply a recap of day 4, when the number of competitors had been dwindled down to a total that just a few cameras could monitor.
Today, however, we can watch events unfold through the entirety of a tournament and really learn the techniques and pace that competitors are fishing. Sure, at times it’s a bit boring to watch a guy flail away without results, but at least it’s realistic, and that realism gives us a whole new understanding of a given fishing approach.
Occasionally, the same “dead air” can trip up the commentators, as production crews are likely beginning to realize. You see, it ain’t easy being a bass fishing commentator; the boss insists you dumb it down, while your true fans want the most hardcore information possible.
As we watch our sport progress into day-long coverage, Rob Newell is separating himself as the best in the game at calling the plays. Not surprisingly, Newell himself was once an avid tournament competitor at the highest ranks, yet remains a journalist at heart, capable of recognizing a story, capturing it, and delivering it to us all in a format beyond print.
This goes way beyond Jerry McKinnis attempting to define a buzzbait in the early days of FLW – at the time, masterfully handing it to an unknowing public who’d never heard of Rick Clunn or even Kevin VanDam. No, it appears today’s coverage is focused more where it should be: on us, the fans and avid anglers who’ve been supporting this dream we call pro bass since day 1.
In any case, such in-depth know-how is drastically changing the game on the water; how could it not be? The days of competitors holding secret spots close to the vest for their next return to a given body of water are over. With the exception of vast open waters in the North, it would be impossible for a productive location to not be recognized and exploited by locals immediately following a tournament. But it’s the adaption to that – the constantly changing face of a fishery – that will continue to separate the best from the rest.
Live coverage will also be the primary driving factor in the popularity of the tournament trails themselves, and their respective athletes. Where we once had the mano-a-mano battle between B.A.S.S. and FLW eating up headlines, Major League Fishing has evolved into a popular third choice for viewers, basing its focus on the same play-by-play coverage, albeit delayed rather than live.
As we watch things unfold, the Big 3 in pro bass TV would be wise to continue to put nearly all their eggs in the die-hard coverage basket. On-the-water spectators will quickly become a thing of the past (why burn the gas and time to see less?), which could be a real positive in terms of major events, where fleets of locals are beginning to drastically influence competition.
The overall format of leaving viewers in suspense during the final hours of each tournament is a bit annoying, but productive, as it keeps fans tuned in to the weigh-in, both online and in person. Our Okeechobee example was a case in point: Tour stand-out Mark Rose trying to fend off Bryan Schmitt, little-known Tim Frederick catching a hawg and pushing through after the cameras go dark. What a script …
There were a few hiccups that need to ironed out: on-the-water audio was poor at times, and the coverage started and stopped a bit despite my lightning-fast Internet. I’m confident those producing the coverage are working on this; if not, they should be.
You see, the bass fishing world is watching, poised to pick a favorite.
(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.)