What a weekend for professional bass fishing! With divided attention, we witnessed a new star in Jamie Hartman ¬– taking down his second Elite Series title of the summer – overshadowed only by Edwin' Evers total dominance of the Bass Pro Tour.
Like many of you, I’m sure, I toggled back and forth between coverage as the events unfolded, entertained by each. Throughout I attempted to pick a side and finally decide who had the best live programing. Truthfully, I was unable.
What I did observe, however, was a major difference. I’m sure each direction is intentional, as both B.A.S.S. and MLF seem convinced they have the best product. More about that in a minute.
In any case, I may be a little late, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the BPT broadcast offers less in terms of hardcore bass fishing information and more of the character of the anglers. Again, I assume that’s the intention, as this program is being labeled as one for the masses, offering non-stop action and fish catches.
Both the B.A.S.S. and FLW programs are built more on angling substance, allowing wanna-be’s like me a chance to get in the boat with a pro and dig through his tackle. We learn more about locations and bait selections, but sometimes find ourselves sitting through idle periods and brief lulls.
All of that aside, a glaring contradiction appeared this weekend, actually polarized by the on-air commentary. The debate came in terms of continuous updates to the competitors.
“You see the best of the best when they make these decisions, solely on what they’re seeing from their boat,” Bassmaster commentator Davy Hite said, in an obvious rebuttal against the MLF ScoreTracker system. “It makes your stomach cramp up,” he continued, “it creates turmoil (and) makes you (the competitor) make decisions.”
Hite’s take concludes that the unknowing creates the most drama of all.
By contrast, in the early stages of the BPT Redcrest Championship, we watched as pros decided whether or not to continue catching fish, based solely on their current place in the tournament, as evident by Scoretracker. Concerned over sharing water with other competitors, savvy pros limited their fish catches in order to slide into a specific elimination round.
Which format produces the most entertaining outcome? I’m not sure. But each certainly changes the competition.
Without question, the immediate update of ScoreTracker pushes anglers to make split-second decisions in the face of fear. It forces them to fish harder, faster and more aggressively, changing water and methods in the blink of an eye.
I feel comfortable in making the comment that, with ScoreTracker breathing down their necks, the BPT pros experience considerably higher catch rates than they would without it, all things being equal. I love watching this “no limits” mentality come into fruition.
On the flip side, a lack of knowledge often pushes B.A.S.S. and FLW pros to make decisions that, in the end, completely change the tournament. Countless times we’ve witnessed leaders fall apart on the final day when a mediocre bag would have saved their event. Or a complete change in approach when an angler feels he has nothing to lose, resulting in a massive charge from back in the pack. In each case, had the competitor known what was truly unfolding, we’d see a different outcome.
Each scenario – immediate info and none – changes things. Therein lies the beauty of tournament fishing.
Perhaps we should consider the accepted format of other sports. All seem to offer competitors immediate updates of their place – including those featuring solitary competitors like skiing, golf and bowling. Even professional poker offers chip counts. Surfers get scored after each ride, gymnasts after each routine. There’s a bar to reach and surpass with each effort, based on the performance of your competitors.
Even in fishing – in the highest-paying angling competitions in the world, including billfish events with first prizes surpassing $1 million - anglers are immediately updated of their competitors’ catches via marine radio.
Is this, then, the next frontier in competitive bass fishing? Will there come a day when continuous updates will be broadcast on the 15-inch sonar displays of today’s super-pros? Do I have a shot at a job carrying a leaderboard someday?
I’m not sure. As Hite mentioned, and I can attest, the unknowing can certainly cramp up a guy’s gut. But then again, it’s not the angler’s nerves the network’s hope to excite.
(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.)