I thought we had seen the end of big-water bass fishing; I really did. By that, Iím referring to the tendency of major tournament organizations to get away from sending competitors out on the Great Lakes when the weather gets nasty.
In the past, tournament waters rarely changed and competitors were expected to face whatever Mother Nature gave them. But things are different today. Now, a host of variables are considered when blasting a tournament off in less than ideal conditions, often leading to last-minute changes for those involved.
I found the strategy adopted at the recent FLW Toyota Series on Lake Erie interesting. In that case, competitors were allowed unlimited access to U.S. waters the first two days of the event, yet were condensed to a minuscule area for the final day.
To put things in context a little batter, early event leaders ran as far as 90 miles Ė one way Ė to reach their fishing grounds. In essence, they had access to thousands of square miles of fishing water and a few of them saw most of it.
However, on day 3, the entire outcome of the event was determined in a bay about 7 miles across, with a little extra shoreline thrown in. Itís unlikely any competitor practiced in that area; most had probably only seen that stretch while running through it on plane.
However, my intention is not to be critical of this change-up. On the contrary, Iíve been an advocate of condensed tournament waters during adverse conditions in the past. Sure, it significantly impacts the outcome, but consider whatís decided.
For example, during the recent Toyota event, we didnít learn who the best smallmouth fisherman was, given the ability to run an unlimited distance under ideal conditions. We learned who the best competitor was, given the need to change and continue to catch bass. In essence, the man who took control of the situation.
Itís not unlike most days you and I spend in the water, if you think about it. Sure, Iíd like calm winds, a few low clouds and no one fishing my best spots. But that rarely happens, and I need to make the best of it.
An alternative to the plan adopted at Sandusky is a complete cancellation of the tournament day; weíve seen this happen frequently, especially in the last 5 years or so. Once cause for an outright protest, a stoppage of play is now the go-to move when in doubt. I get it; it accomplishes the ultimate goal of keeping everyone safe. But cancelling a competition day is no way to determine a winner. And one-day bass tournaments can hardly be called professional.
The third way to handle unforeseen weather issues, obviously, is to play on. In the case of the recent Bassmaster Elite Series, thatís just what happened. Stationed out of Clayton, N.Y., the top-tier B.A.S.S. trail got off to a smooth start, with huge stringers of smallmouths making trips to the scales. The final day, however, was anything but a cakewalk, as big winds pushed Lake Ontarioís waves up over 6 feet. B.A.S.S., the organization most frequently suspending play over the last decade due to weather, could have easily condensed the tournament waters to include only the St. Lawrence River. Yet they let the field go and a big-water guru took the crown.
The old-school fan in me loved it. These guys are pros and they should be able to do as they please in terms of boat operation and chosen fishing locations, right? Theyíve been there before.
Or should this decision be one with a more concrete direction?
Thatís what Iím getting at. In the case of these decisions, I think itís high time there was a standard. Because there sure doesnít seem to be.
In the recent past, weíve seen events entirely canceled or moved due to the threat of flooding. Weíve seen days postponed for rough boating conditions on waters incapable of producing waves higher than the gunnel of a bass boat. And then, out of nowhere, we watched a top-tier league allow its competitors to run off into the abyss on a day when the charter fleet stayed at the dock.
Again, itís not about the decision being made; fish or donít fish. Itís about the lack of consistency.
For the sport to continue to evolve, the major tournament organizations must give the players and the fans a standard they can rely on. And, while weather forecasts are far from foolproof, there are forecasting standards already in place. Elevation and flood-level stages on dams. Real-time lightning maps. Small-craft advisories.
Tournament directors have tough jobs and planning according to a ďforecastĒ is never rock-solid. Itís impossible to please everybody, but itís time there was at least a plan.
(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.)