With the MLF REDCREST championship at Lake Norman earlier this month and the Bassmaster Classic this weekend on the Tennessee River, we are all reminded of what a huge sport professional bass fishing has become—and how it affects all of us as anglers.
I’ll have to admit that when Ray Scott first got into business back in 1968, I was skeptical, to say the least. The idea of commercializing what was a more or less “pure” sport and involving hundreds of anglers and thousands of fans in what was then often seen as a solitary sport, or one pursued with a friend or two, was a big pill to swallow.
The concept of fishing as a spectator sport was another dramatic shift—who wants to watch other anglers weigh in fish?
It turned out, a whole lot of us do.
I not only changed my opinion of B.A.S.S., I became a part of it, working as a senior writer for the company for several decades.
This weekend, hundreds of spectators will swarm down to Knoxville’s nicely designed waterfront park to see the 53 contenders in the 2023 Bassmaster Classic, fishing for a $300,000 first prize and the sponsorship deals that will come with being top rod in the traditional senior league of pro bassing, take off at dawn.
Thousands will then show up in the afternoon at Knoxville Convention Center for the weigh-in.
Tens of thousands will watch the fishing play out on the Internet. Streaming videos will multiply the viewership into the millions in the next few months. And B.A.S.S. has a half-million dues-paying members worldwide.
What Ray visualized and the rest of us did not is that we want to learn how the best anglers fish—and tournament anglers are the best there is at what they do.
The arrival of the Internet has made it far more useful because fans are no longer relying on us scribes to deliver a word picture of how they fished weeks or months later—they can see exactly how the experts are catching them, sometimes immediately. We experience the joy of victory when that 5-pounder comes over the rail . . . and the agony of defeat when that 8-pounder shakes the lure.
And we can see exactly what they’re fishing, where they’re fishing and how they fish it. It’s not only a great instructional for all of us who love fishing, it’s a great sales tool for the many companies that sponsor the pro anglers. You can’t very well say you’re catching ‘em on Brand X when the camera clearly sees that you’re fishing with Brand Y.
It all goes together to make great spectator events, and the stars of both the MLF REDCREST and the Bassmasters Classic have become our heroes, our instructors and our role models, at least when it comes to bass fishing.
The field varies this year from well-known names like Hank Cherry, Brandon Palaniuk, Scott Martin, Gerald Swindle, Brandon Lester and John Crews to complete newcomers who made the Classic by winning regional tournament circuits.
The great thing about the Classic is that, like the Men’s NCAA Division 1 Basketball Championships, everybody who makes the field has a shot at winning the big prize, in this case a life-changing $300,000 in cash plus multiple sponsorship deals that make it possible to stay afloat on the circuit for years and build a long-term reputation.
That’s not only great for them and their families, but also for all of the many of us who watch, and learn, and dream . . . .