Wow, what a slugfest! Just when I thought that nothing could top the overall catch of smallmouth bass at the FLW Tour event on Lake St. Clair, the Bassmaster crew took to Waddington, N.Y., and blew the doors off.
Letís check the statistics.
Day 1 at the Tour event brought 180 FLW pros to Lake St. Clair, who combined for 32 stringers reaching 20 pounds or more (18 percent of anglers), with one bag eclipsing 25 pounds. Throughout the tournament, the largest stringer weighed 26-07, and winner Chad Grigsby caught 20 bass weighing 97-08; an average of 4.88 pounds per bass.
At the recent Bassmaster Elite event on the St. Lawrence, 107 anglers caught an astonishing 52 bags over 20 pounds on day 1 (49 percent of fishermen). Seven stringers over 25 pounds came to the scales that day, with the largest of the event weighing 27-12. Tournament winner Josh Bertrand weighed 20 bass for a combined 95-03, averaging 4.76 pounds per fish.
All incredible numbers indeed, but none of which compares to the sheer number of 20-pound stringers in the Elite eventís opening round. Half the field caught 20 pounds!
Numerous theories exist to explain the reason for the monumental growth of smallmouth bass in many of our nationís fisheries. Increased forage Ė most notably in the form of round gobies and other exotics Ė is often credited. Cleaner and clearer waters allow more sunlight penetration, increasing aquatic plant growth and allowing more efficient feeding for bass. And water temperatures are increasing as a whole all across the planet Ė a scientific fact, regardless of reason Ė thus allowing for longer growing seasons of bass in cold-water climes.
In any case, the bronzebacks are getting bigger, no doubt. Videos of this weekendís St. Lawrence catches confirm that the big brown bass are alpha predators, with quite the appetite. Many of the fish caught on tape truly resembled footballs.
What struck me most about the Waddington fishery, however, was how close to shore many of the hotspots were. If youíre a local New York angler hoping to keep your dynamite fishery secret, your goose is cooked. With so many big bass just a stoneís throw off the bank, the popularity of the 1000 Island fishery is sure to explode. Goodbye hour-long runs through four-footers in search of Great Lakes big 'uns.
Such brings up a good point.
Along with news of the fabulous catches, the Elite event also shined light on the B.A.S.S./Waddington relationship, publicizing the cityís desire for additional fishing tourism. B.A.S.S. was all about helping out, signing a three-year deal to bring numerous national events to upstate New York.
Win-win (well, unless youíre that guy with the cooked goose).
Anyway, itís great when the major tours bring their anglers to these renowned Northern fisheries, showcasing areas outside of the southeast, as bass anglers and fans are everywhere, and itís important to try to include them all.
But should there be definitive, repetitive stops on Tour? Iíve never really settled on an answer for that one.
Immediately, Iím reminded of Beaver Lake, as FLW has hosted national events there 12 of the last 14 seasons. Sure, there were likely location and sponsor agreements that went along with that, but I always wondered how having such a repeat event truly changed the year-end standings of the entire Tour.
For some time, thereís been a general trend toward favoring a ďno-information mystery lakeĒ type of scenario within the pro bass fishing fan base. The ultimate way to determine the best angler, itís argued, is to have an even playing field prior to the start of competition.
Having multiple events, year after year, on the same fishery, eliminates that possibility.
But then Iím reminded of other individual-based sports. Golf, tennis, NASCAR - heck, even bowling or billiards; all repeat their venues time after time, year after year. Think about it: Augusta hosts the Masters, and has done so for generations. Wimbledon has been played at the All England Club since 1877. And, last I checked, Daytona just about started NASCAR.
So perhaps the answer for professional bass fishing lies in a similar game plan: keep the same locales, year after year, to allow for a reliable, planned fan base.
What would be so wrong with that? Nothing, according to the tourism people in Waddington, Iíd reckon.
Bass fishing fans would suggest that repeats would alter the game, and they might. But in the end, the same great fishermen would contend and win. Just look at the stats. Lately, the long-time veterans Ė those with vast experience at fisheries all across America Ė are wining less and less. Replacing them are eager, young anglers; many networked together to produce immediate results, fishing in the moment and not relying on past history.
And mark my word: no matter how many times the tours visit a place like Waddington, or Beaver or Okeechobee, a new guy will almost always win.
Today, things happen fast.
(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.)