“I don’t know about you, but I don’t get excited sitting around and talking about catching a limit of keeper fish, even though such a catch might earn me more cash than a single 12-pounder.”
- Doug Hannon, from his book Big Bass Magic.
Big fish are where it’s at.
Or are they?
Over the previous few decades, I’ve witnessed a change in the overall goal of most bass anglers. Early on, it was recognized that big bass were all the rage. For many, the way to gauge success was with a wall-hanger, signifying some sort of completion of a life’s goal.
While a considerable amount of recognition was given to the early top tournament pros, big bass gurus gained an equal share of exposure in periodicals and on TV. A large piece of the bass-fishing public continued to be interested in the pursuit of trophy bass and continued to burn their vacations at renowned fishing destinations
But as time went on, tournament fishing overtook the influence of most bass anglers, whether they entered or not. Anglers expanded their personal methods to match the top pros. Boats and fishing styles both became faster. Lure categories blossomed to include tens of thousands of choices. Run and gun, and five fish stringers, clearly took over.
Somewhere along the line, trophy bass fishing was left behind.
Now, as things faded, we saw a few peaks and valleys. The California big bass boom of the 1990s got everyone’s attention, as did the historic rise of Texas’ Lake Fork around the same time. But since then, it’s been all “best five.”
A case in point: The world record bass – that is, the heaviest bass ever caught on rod and reel and certified, was caught in 2009 and barely left a dent in terms of publicity. Sure, we saw a story or two on the bass fishing sites but, had the same occurred in the 1980’, there would have been a world tour.
I contemplate this change in culture from time to time with close bass buddies. Many, like me, miss the days when big bass fishing was more popular and media sources shared the stories of the world’s best, and the methods they chose when pursuing giants.
Another example: On several occasions each year, readers will share with me some of the best content they gather on bass fishing. And without fail, one fan will nearly always mention the book In Pursuit of Giant Bass by Bill Murphy.
In case you aren’t aware, Murphy was a legendary figure in the California big bass scene even before the Bob Crupi 22-pounder and the big bass named Dottie. Murphy’s 370-page masterpiece includes detailed instruction on fishing deep structure with live bait and select artificial lures. Included within are discussions on "stitching," system anchoring and productive lunar periods for giant bass. There’s little talk of the popular bass fishing ideas of today, and nowhere is there mention of Neko rigs, dropshots or ChatterBaits.
Yet, time and again, I hear how this book becomes an angler’s latest obsession.
What am I getting at?
I wonder how many of us yearn for this type of material? Because, for some, it appears what organized bass fishing is offering just isn’t want we’re into. At least not 24/7.
Are there still legions of anglers out there who dream of that one magical week, that one time all year when they’ll re-spool everything and drive through the night to reach their personal promised land, a place where they can swing for the fences in hopes of fulfilling a life-long ambition? Or does everyone just want to catch a bunch of chunks?
In my youth, there was a mystique to big bass fishing, almost some sort of magic. It was 10-inch worms and 25-pound XT and obsessively staring at the giant bass mounted on the wall of the tackle shop. It was men coming from all over the country, doing anything to get to Florida or Texas or anywhere that rumors of big bass lived.
The media embraced this, noting that stories of one monster fish could quicken the pulse of readers far better than tales of bank-runners.
Today, there are needs in our sport that exceed what we’re given from the bass fishing media. When the major sources aren’t interested in trophy bass fishing, or live bait, trolling, anchoring or anything else that doesn’t fit in with tournament pursuit, we simply see none of it reported. Somewhere, it became acceptable that the only thing we’d be served would be what would best promote tournaments.
A few years ago, I wrote a series of articles on the gurus of trophy bass fishing for FLW’s magazine, and the research that went in was some of the most rewarding and interesting I’ve done. The stories of these guys were unreal, I mean the stuff of legends. I vividly remember the way one guide put it. “You can screw up and catch a 5-pounder, but you can’t and catch a giant. So every day I’m on the water, I can’t screw up. Ever. Because it’s probably the most important fish of my client’s life.”
True, I’ve seen men scream over a tournament-winning 1-pounder.
But I’ve seen them cry over a 10.
(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.)