I wanted to catch a pompano. Since moving to Florida more than five years ago, I had run through a bucket list of saltwater species that I craved to taste, and pompano were next on that list. To catch one the old fashioned way – surf fishing from the beach – seemed the most appropriate. The problem was, I had no clue how.
A couple of searches took me to various YouTube videos, then to the Facebook site of Florida’s beach-fishing king, complete with fish-catch photos and tips on rigging. A little more digging linked me up with his hand-tied pompano rigs, the proper way to catch and keep bait and even a few recipes in case I got lucky.
Ten days later, I was scraping a pompano filet off the grill. Life was good.
You may ask how this applies to bass-fishing topics and our time together here. It has nothing to do with pompano. Instead, it has to do with the overall message we’re putting out as an industry and how confusing it’s becoming.
I use my rookie surf-fishing trip as an example. How much is out there, in the same fashion, relating to bass fishing? I mean, when a person new to our sport looks for information on how to catch bass, what do they find?
A lot. Basics searches reveal everything from YouTube stars fishing lunker-stocked ponds to tour pros plugging sponsor products. There’s lots of “best lure ever” content out there, a whole bunch of exaggerated fish weights and even bass fishing in swimming pools and sewers. In essence, there’s more sensationalism than reality. At least, not the reality I’m used to.
Now, to be fair, there is a bit of basic, toned-down material online that could prove handy to rookie bassers. If they can find it. What my example really shows, however, is the need for easy content in an industry flooded with complexity. Truthfully, I hadn’t noticed the problem until I was taken back to rookie status myself.
The biggest flaws I see in our attempts to bring more anglers into bass fishing are related to cost and complication. It’s too costly to become an active participant, and too complicated early on.
It seems the cost issue is one we can talk about forever and never get anywhere. Regardless of the fact that more anglers are turning toward other forms of outdoor activity, like kayak fishing. Regardless of the glaring signs that bass gear is just too expensive for many hopeful anglers; there still seems to be almost no effort toward marketing mid-range products. It’s always just a push for the top-shelf items.
However, our other hurdle – the confusion factor – is something that’s being addressed.
I admit, in the past I’ve been critical of social media “stars” and credit being given to “influencers” with no real credibility. In my mind, if you weren’t out there hacking around with Edwin Evers and crew, you weren’t a pro and you weren’t eligible to influence the buying public. But, I see now, I was wrong. Somewhat.
Our sport has evolved into one obsessed with competition and the most likely spokesmen are the competitive best. But not everyone looking to bass-fish is as equally obsessed as the rest of us. And for them, there needs to be a better information base.
Perhaps those aforementioned influencers really help bring anglers to the sport, because I can’t imagine the $100,000 bass boat model is the best way.
But what I’d like to see is a more organized effort from the manufacturers. We see attention toward the real basic stuff – kids' fishing clinics, outdoor days and the like – but then we seem to lose interest in helping out the next group in line. It’s like bobbers and wiggly worms, then straight to jerseys and Jackhammers.
Where is the middle ground? Where is the program that helps introduce Americans to the outdoors through bass fishing in the same way that we do so through paddle-board tours or ATV trail rides or even pay lakes, for that matter? Why is it that everything has to be complicated and involve competition?
There’s a major gap in our sport in terms of simple information and nowhere for occasional recreational anglers to reside. Gone are the days, it seems, when a couple of guys got in an inexpensive boat to enjoy the outdoors and do a little bass fishing, the big fish of the day winning the ice cream bet.
Soon, the public’s perception of bass fishing as good, clean fun, and an American pastime passed down through the generations, will go with it.
Is that what we’re after? Because much of our user base is headed for the door.
(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.)