The story was laid out perfect; all we had to do was watch it unfold.
Given the chance, a better set of circumstances couldn’t have been drawn up by the FLW PR department. Entering the final day of the Cup, an out-of-nowhere rookie held the lead, followed by the BFL hero and an ex-Elite pro, anxious for a clean slate.
Little did they know what was about to unfold.
As the bass fishing world quickly learned, 10-place finalist Clent Davis experienced a dream day of fishing when it counted most, evaporating the competition on the final day by catching the largest stringer of the 2018 Forrest Wood Cup. It wasn’t even close.
Davis did it in vintage old-school form, relying on a proven system of fishing brush piles with a Mister Twister worm, similar to models used for decades by everyone from Woo Daves to Larry Nixon.
Fans later learned how Davis, after lackluster seasons chasing his dream on the Elite tour, sold nearly all of his fishing equipment with plans to hang it up, become a credible family man and settle in as a nine-to-fiver.
I guess that’s all water under the bridge now.
You may recall my personal intention to experience this drama through my annual trip to the Cup, as described in my “winning pick” column last week. Unfortunately, the journey never materialized, as the magicians of air traffic control again put all Delta flights on the ground late last week due to routine thunderstorms.
In any case, the botched attempt gave me the chance to digest the Cup in the same manner as many of you: through ungodly long hours watching FLW Live. And, prior to this event, I never thought I’d get tired of watching my heroes compete.
Lake Ouachita, however, can be pretty lackluster in terms of watching other people fish.
Regardless, in terms of a real bass geek-fest, I was able to tune in as many of the country’s best anglers experienced the same thing the rest of us do: hours upon hours without action, interrupted by a few bites that were impossible to pattern or repeat elsewhere. Sometimes, bass just don’t act like they’re supposed to, regardless of who’s doing the casting.
I loved how the event unfolded on day 3. Rob Newell anchored the commentary, reminding us all never to settle on an expected outcome. After all, this is fishing; the ball lives and breathes.
“I know you hear us say anyone can win, and you think, yeah, sure” Newell insisted. “But no one is out of it when the weights are this close”
Boy, did he hit the nail on the head.
Unfortunately, much of Davis’ dream day wasn’t available to viewers, or at least not yet, as a number of his fish catches happened after FLW Live went off the air. In addition, anticipation was high for other top finishers to give chase around the same time, as the best fishing was occurring late in the day.
While I hadn’t intended to go down this path, it’s here where I must give scrutiny.
I just can’t understand why FLW insists on discontinuing coverage of its live programming around noontime. When pressed on the topic, the reply was: “We cut the feed off in order to maintain an element of suspense for the weigh-in.”
At the expense of several hours of fishing footage? And besides, with reported weights being quick estimates, aren’t the weigh-ins still pretty suspenseful?
Regardless, what we did see live continued to represent the changing face of professional bass fishing. In fact, this style of coverage is responsible for a complete transformation of the sport itself.
Viewership numbers are surely increasing in leaps and bounds, exposing more people to our sport than ever before. In addition, the pros’ ability to communicate with the public has never been better. For example, Nick Lebrun was heavy on the sponsor plugs during his TV time, but it showed how I – the viewer – learned about his chosen equipment in real time, rather than waiting for a couple quick lines in a magazine months later.
The live broadcast also introduced us to new stars and renewed our opinions of veterans. James Niggemeyer immediately comes to mind. Despite knowing his name and following his career a bit, I never knew how refined, how focused – how totally cool – Niggemeyer is in his tournament fishing. His approach reminded me of Gary Klein – heavy on the mental side, all the while remaining an impartial observer. Niggemeyer’s got a new fan in me, I can guarantee you.
In the end, the Cup followed in the footsteps of our most recent championships; photo finishes almost too good to be true. Sure there were a few technical difficulties and stalled broadcast moments due to poor cell reception, but these are simple growing pains, I’m sure. As both major tournament organizations have shown, we are on the path to greater things in professional bass fishing, available to everyone, instantly.
It’s truly the best time in history to be a fan of professional bass fishing. Maybe next year, I’ll just skip the flight all together.
(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.)