This week, we saw a complete stoppage of a professional tournament due to flooding, as the Bassmaster Elite event scheduled for the Sabine River in Orange, Texas was postponed until a later, unannounced time. Such came as quite a shock to many fans and competitors. The Sabine previously supported record weigh-in crowds; this year, a major music festival was coordinated around the bass tournament. Yet, tournament organizers chose to forego all of that planning and potential exposure in order to ensure no competitors faced unsafe conditions.
Yet, while safety is always the utmost priority, I again wonder how this “blue-sky” trend will affect our sport. Whatever happened to measuring the skills of anglers despite adversity to determine a winner? Are we destined to follow in the footsteps of golf, where competition is played out under conditions nearly unrecognizable to the common man?
Let me back up a bit.
Twenty-five years ago, competitive bass fishing was dominated by anglers using refined flipping techniques with jigs. Tommy Biffle and Denny Brauer were often center stage as true pioneers of this method, designing and introducing the premier rods, reels, line and lures for close-quarters combat. In fact, Brauer won twice in the 1993 Bassmaster season with his trademark rattleback jig; both at Buggs Island and the Superstars event in Peoria, Ill.
In addition, each of those victories shared another trait: they both occurred under flooded conditions. The Peoria event, in particular, came on the heels of a weather front that left much of the Midwest a near disaster area. Numerous competitors jumped levees to reach secluded backwaters in hopes of finding clear water. Guido Hibdon led after two days, but later fell victim to rolling mud breaching the small dam that protected his fishing area.
My point in all this? After learning Brauer’s techniques, I, too, caught fish in a flood. During one of my earliest trips to a triple-A event, I copied Brauer’s playbook to a T – from the Denny Brauer flippin’ stick loaded with 25-pound Stren, to the Rattleback jig and matching Big Claw trailer – and garnered my first top-10 in the backwaters around LaCrosse, Wis.
I kid you not.
Adversity. That’s always been one of the underlying highlights of major bass tournaments. Natural adversity, and how the true champions overcome it. For me, such provided a blueprint on how to succeed in a condition I had rarely faced.
If we remove these factors when holding major events, are we removing them from reality?
Bass fishing as a professional sport is unlike any other, as nearly anyone can climb the ranks from amateur to professional through determination and commitment. Therefore, the sport supports a massive network of dreamers and dabblers who follow the pro ranks very closely and utilize the world’s best as their mentors, tutors and teachers.
However, the average guy often doesn’t get to pick his days to go fishing, or ensure they align with favorable conditions. Chances are, his local bass tournament won’t either. This weekend, it’s on – hell or high water.
Drawing from the opening paragraph, let me give you another example. Once an avid golfer, I dreamed of a day when I could play on courses like the PGA pros: fairways and greens without a blemish, the crowd silenced for every shot. In reality, I never got a good lie on my hacked-up local course.
Is that what we’re letting professional bass fishing become?
Are we taking the everyman principles out of the game? We’ve already done so for most in terms of boats, electronics – even lures to a degree – with skyrocketing prices for pro-level equipment. Will there become a time when professional bass competitions will be viewed like car races? I mean, sure, I’ve got a car, but I’ll never race it at Daytona.
Perhaps, in order to keep it real, organizers need to draw on past experience a little more, like those glory days in Peoria.
In closing, I feel it necessary to make a bit of a disclaimer. My point here is not to rebut my preceding columns regarding safety. I’m fully aware of my printed opinion regarding previously dangerous tournament situations, like fishing below dams or traversing the massive waters of the Great Lakes or Lake Okeechobee. Here, I continue to stand behind the need for off-limits areas, additional safety equipment and even speed limits.
Each of these situations must be viewed as unique and reviewed carefully to determine the best outcome. However, all sides should always be considered.
(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.)