As the national tours finish up for 2018, we’re left with a few brief topics to touch on, all of which signal a continued change in professional bass fishing. Without further delay, let’s look into this week’s top news.
> BASS Elite AOY battle down to only two – With just the AOY Championship event left to determine a champion, only two men can win one of the most significant titles in bass fishing. Nine points separate Justin Lucas and Josh Bertrand, ensuring the race will be a nail-biter and likely come down to the final fish.
Possibly even more significant, however, is the list of names falling below the top-50 cut line; anglers therefore unable to qualify for the 2019 Bassmaster Classic through the Elite Series. McClelland, Roumbanis, Duckett, Klein, Clunn, Kennedy, Howell, Monroe and others make up a group of household names that will likely be watching from the sidelines.
Such signifies a repeated theme of young, less experienced anglers dominating the pro ranks, a trait once perceived as impossible to those who believe intricate experience and past history is a key to tournament success. Not so, say the new group of 20-somethings.
> Westerners are here to stay – Again turning to the B.A.S.s. AOY race, the two leaders represent another significant characteristic: both are from the far West – Bertrand grew up in Arizona and Lucas is a Californian transplanted to the South. And while they’re certainly not the first Westerners to hit it big, I think they’ve helped secure the concept.
Sure, back in the day we saw Gary Klein and a few others join the tour and succeed. Later, guys like Skeet Reese, Dean Rojas, Jay Yelas and Aaron Martens captured bass fishing’s biggest titles. But until now, it seems as though the thought of a western kid making it big out East still held a bit of mystique, as if these success stories were simply examples of phenom fishermen.
Now, however, a West Coast kid has validation. For several years, aggressive hitters like Lucas and Bertrand have proven that they’re for real, and they’re here to stay. A quick look at the final standings on the Elite tour confirms: anglers coming out of the West are performing better than the rest, and a career as a bass pro is a legit undertaking from Louisiana to L.A.
> Cup venue change a sign of the times – Once an unthinkable move, the 2019 Forrest Wood Cup has switched venues from Lake Ouachita to nearby Lake Hamilton. Hot Springs, Ark. will continue as the host city, so about the only notable change was the fishery itself. In a press release, FLW listed the biggest reason behind the switch was superior cell phone coverage in the Lake Hamilton area, something TV and FLW Live producers struggled with during the 2018 event at Ouachita. I question the overall poor catch rate at Ouachita, and how that may have affected the decision, as well.
Fans should note, however, that Hamilton is no lunker factory in its own right, with 10-pound stringers able to take down many local events in the summer and fall. Nostalgic fans may remember George Cochran’s 2005 Cup win at Hamilton with 18 meager bass over four days, solidifying his status as one of the best to ever compete in tough tournaments.
The venue switch signifies something greater than fishery consideration, however. For what may be the first time in history, technology and ease of live broadcast trump every other aspect of tournament site selection. Sure, in the past, championship events like the Cup and Classic have been brought to cities willing to accommodate with premier lodging, weigh-in facilities or extra-curricular activities (dating back all the way to Classic 1 in Las Vegas). However, I can’t recall the primary, underlying factor for switching lakes credited as better cell phone service.
Where does that leave us? Will we see a time when more remote fisheries aren’t even considered as possible tournament destinations due to lousy service? Will fisheries be rated based on the number of cell towers on their shores? Is anyone else noticing that the overall concept of bass tournaments – switching from the weigh-in mode to instant, live coverage – is completely changing the way our game is viewed and the future of the sport?
All things to consider, and great fun to follow.
(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.)