The arm’s race continues in professional fishing, as B.A.S.S. recently announced live coverage of all Elite Series events and the Bassmaster Classic on FOX Sports in 2021. Such will be the first regular live television viewing in our sport, a big deal for the execs, but not so life-changing for us bass nerds used to the coverage online.

Anyway, the real game-changer here is the proof of commitment to professional bass fishing. Major League Fishing was first to the table with unheard-of coverage on the Discovery Channel. B.A.S.S. appears to be following suit and attempting to up the ante with a true live-sports feel. Either way, we’re the winners.

The B.A.S.S. press release was heavy on the overall increase in fishing participation in America this year (due, really, to the pandemic) and attempts to keep that interest and retain the folks involved. You see, ebbs and flows in fishing are common. Unfortunately, there’s usually a down cycle after a peak, where we lose anglers to other forms of entertainment, or just plain life in general.

So the industry is interested in grabbing that attention while it has it, focusing it on professional fishing from a fan perspective, and growing the sport.

Grow the sport, grow the sport. We hear that all the time. However, for the first time in a while, the interest seems to be in growing viewership – or fan awareness – as much as participation. I wonder if it will work.

I’m thinking back to the major growth periods in the pro bass fishing fan base. Perhaps not coincidentally, they seem to occur about every 20 years. The '60s started all; the '80s brought about a big boom in fan participation through arena weigh-ins and showmanship. The turn of the century found major expansion through FLW’s growth, and about twenty years later, here we are again in a completely different world.

Remember, it wasn’t long ago that the entirety of professional bass fishing coverage was confined to one hour a week, with no live broadcasts. When live weigh-ins came along, I thought we had it made. There was even fantasy fishing! Little did I know how far we could go in such short time.

Now, tournament broadcasts and recaps are everywhere. Truthfully, it’s hard to keep up. I’m not sure who does.

But I like having options. I enjoy being able to watch fishing when I want, with more options than the lousy infomercial shows we discussed recently.

But the subject here isn’t a guy like me; I’m a lifer. Instead, the interest apparently lies in grabbing the attention of the growing number of recreational anglers and piquing their interest in pro fishing. Is that possible? Is this truly our time?

Remember, along with the 20-year surge has always come this same conversation: pro bass joining the ranks of golf and tennis and other true professional sports. Yet, for a number of reasons, it remains just outside the public’s eye.

Media members and marketers continue to scratch their heads as to why that is. We’re told that more people participate in fishing than just about any other outdoor sport (a little stretch based on what’s considered participation), and now we hear of this monumental rise in licensed anglers across the U.S. So it’s natural to think that pro bass fishing will be the next big thing, right?

I argue we’ve always struggled with two major hurdles. First, our sport involves catching fish, seen by some as mastery or dominance over a living thing. Now don’t go off on me on this – I’m just talking for those individuals who don’t understand the true principles of fishing. To them, skill should not be associated with this type of sport, as it’s far different than putting a ball in a hole, or through a hoop, or hitting one with a stick. “Winning at fishing” just doesn’t make sense to them, and I doubt we’ll ever convince these people otherwise. However, as more try fishing for the first time, the better the chance we’ll have.

Our second obstacle lies in having multiple professional tours. Again, not my problem, just stating facts. While I’ve always enjoyed following multiple anglers on multiple trails, it’s confusing for the fans, especially the part-timers. No other major sport has two full professional leagues that share equal attention, period. Heck, lately the sport has been confusing even to me with the inception of events fished now and revealed later. And I work here.

So how are we going to grab the attention of all of these new anglers and focus them on professional bass fishing? It appears the plan involves a push in television.

We’re in a strange time. Often, it seems the biggest game in town is social media. We’re told anglers on this platform can generate as much interest and sales as a Bassmaster Classic champion, and “influence” the masses toward the outdoors. Now, TV battles again grab the headlines, with all the focus on pro-level competition. One day, we push to spread the gospel of life outside, the next, we’re expected to watch it from our living rooms.

So which is it? Is the goal to teach people to fish, or purely create a fan base? Engagement or entertainment?

Perhaps this, too, is part of the problem.

(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.)