Another Classic in the books and another back-to-back winner. Truthfully, after KVD pulled it off, I thought we’d never see a repeat again, but this makes four. Truly an incredible feat.
Hank Cherry deserves it. He flew under the radar leading into the event, but came on like a true veteran, allowing his approach to develop and not getting hemmed in to one pattern. It was thrilling to see Cherry switch gears each day and move to the Ray Roberts dam for a couple key fish. Like I mentioned in my preview, this event would be won in an out-of-the-ordinary way. Notice, none of the other competitors near the top made such a drastic change. In the end, it cost them.
Following Cherry’s first win, he had to endure a shortened victory tour thanks to the pandemic. It’s only fitting that he gets another shot at the festivities.
As usual, I traveled to the Classic to get an inside feel of everything going on in our sport. There were some notable bullet points that came with the tournament.
First, hat’s off to the host city. If you’ve never been to Fort Worth, it’s wildly cool. Old-school Texas – we’re talking hats and cattle drives here – meets the trendy rebirth of urban living, resulting in a unique, rooted feel. The music, the food; it’s all there. And there’s gigantic areas of green space right downtown for walkers, joggers and bikers. Love that.
The Expo took place in the heart of it all, at the Will Rogers Memorial Center, known as a historic “entertainment, sports and livestock complex.” A good portion of the show was right there in the sheep and cattle barns. But don’t judge. Although it was a bit toasty at times, the location added to the feel. It took me back a bit, to a time when sport shows were the greatest places on earth and often staged wherever they’d fit.
Besides, the Bassmaster Classic Outdoor Expo delivers, no matter where it’s held. Each year, I see this monster grow, resulting in what’s easily the best show in the country for hardcore bass fishermen. Equipment manufacturers now release new gear at the Expo, showing its significance. Ranger, Nitro and Triton all showcased never-seen-before boats on the same day. As usual, I bought too many lures.
Live television coverage was a first for the event in quite sometime. I was giddy to see the Classic on my hotel television Saturday morning. But I was equally disappointed to see choppy coverage, and none at all on Sunday, as the broadcast shifted to FS1. That left me the choice between a one-hour streaming view or watching the B.A.S.S. Live coverage without much commentary.
I wonder where this will go; perhaps we’re at a crossroads. You see, with no cable TV in my house, I’m an online-only viewer (it might surprise readers to know that nearly half as many adults in the U.S. now don’t have cable as do). With the new live television partnership, B.A.S.S. is putting all of its commentary efforts in that medium. So where does that leave me?
Back to the derby. On Sunday, the top players consisted of a former Classic champ, a B.A.S.S. Nation standout, a wily Elite series vet, an Opens angler and a former FLW hammer. This diversity shows exactly the intention of the Classic tournament qualification. It’s great to see it play out as planned, and leaves me wonder: Will we again see another amateur win?
Finally, I need to comment on the weigh-in, because I think this is where we will someday see a shift. For starters, how many of you saw the footage of those Classics in the late '80s? Compared to those events of old, the weigh-ins have dropped off. And before you say it’s that so-and-so Balog just trying to stir the pot – don’t think I care one way or the other if weigh-ins continue in bass fishing. I’m just voicing what I hear – continuously – from others.
What’s questionable is whether the on-site weigh-in will continue, and why. As I’ve stated, the Expo is a home run. And the B.A.S.S. media machine is well versed on spreading the message. But the showmanship has waned, as we’re already watching the whole thing play out online. Who, then, wants to go to a two-hour weigh-in?
True, the weigh-in is necessary to actually decide the winner, and there’s still a little bit of mystery (and frustration) when the online broadcasts end early. But I bet we’ll continue to see fan participation decline here for the time being.
Regardless, the Classic continues to prove that bass fishing is active and healthy in the outdoor scene of America. That’s a great feeling, considering all the changes other aspects of our culture have faced. And kudos to B.A.S.S. and Greg Hackney for an incredible job representing the sport on the Weather Channel, providing America with a solid conservation message.
The tournament also solidified the notion of not messing with Texas, hopefully a popular stop for Classics to come. Fort Worth again someday? Count me in.
(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.)