RE: Balog on co-anglers – Joe is getting closer to hitting the nail on the head with his statement: "The industry has gotten out of hand with the accepted model." Then he states: "I believe we are at the tipping point of a potential collapse." I agree with Joe; we are close to a collapse in professional bass fishing.
I was there at the beginning in 1967, here's my view of what happened:
Ray Scott announced the organization of B.A.S.S. in January 1968. In his first issue of BassMaster Magazine he listed the eight purposes of B.A.S.S.:
> To organize the Bass Anglers of America.
> To stimulate public awareness of bass fishing as a major participation sport.
> To improve our skills as bass anglers through the exchange of expert bass-catching techniques and ideas.
> To offer our states' conservation departments our organized support.
> To demand adequate water standards and enforcement of existing standards.
> To encourage private and governmental study into why fishing on our streams goes bad.
> To promote and encourage youth fishing.
> To present national championship bASS fishing tournaments.
Notice that Ray listed tournaments last.
For the next 18 years, B.A.S.S. set the pace for professional bass fishing with close ties to everyone in the industry and the membership went from Don Butler's first entry to over 600,000 worldwide members.
What changed the professional bass Fishing direction? Here's my view as tournament director during that period:
First Ray Scott sold BASS and at that point pro bass fishing lost its leader. Next Forrest Wood sold Ranger Boats and one of the leaders in the industry was missing. Then FLW entered the tournament picture and gave bass anglers another schedule of events, but it also developed into a contest between B.A.S.S. and FLW for control of the sport.
Next came a move that began to change everything – B.A.S.S. did away with the 150-hp limits. This move sparked the industry's race for larger products that cost more money, resulting in tournament rigs costing over $50,000. It also boiled over into tackle prices going out of sight.
Next came the co-anglers and marshals who were paying less into the payout, resulting in an increase in the pros' entry fees. It also provided the co-anglers and marshals a boat and driver and no much need for tackle as they did not control the fishing. They also did not learn much as the pro did not share info with them as they had with other pro partners.
The entry fees went up, the payout went up and the industry went out of sight.
The next move that changed everything was the sale of B.A.S.S. to ESPN. This put the control of professional bass fishing in the hands of TV people who could care less about the eight B.A.S.S. purposes. They are only interested in promoting themselves and making a TV show where they direct all the action, as they do in all major sports, once they take control.
In quick order the following changes happened:
> B.A.S.S. changed the direction of the B.A.S.S. Federation and half the chapters left and formed their own Federation.
> ESPN sold BASS and suddenly everyone was excited about high school and college team fishing. Remember that B.A.S.S. purpose No. 7 was to encourage youth fishing. Kids don't go fishing, they are carried fishing. This is what the B.A.S.S. Federation was involved in. High school and college anglers should belong to a bass club.
> The worldwide membership in B.A.S.S. was over 600,000 when Ray sold it, but is way below that today. The entry fees were less than $500 a few years ago. B.A.S.S. just announced a $6,000 entry fee for the 2015 BASSFest amateurs.
B.A.S.S. and FLW both are reducing the available entries and increasing the entry fees for 2015. This encourages bass anglers to look for other ways to enjoy bass fishing without going broke.
How can this potential collapse be changed?
Pro bass fishing has no leadership, so maybe it's time to form a commission that would control the direction of the sport. All other major sports have done that to control the owners and players and advance the sport. B.A.S.S., FLW and the industry leaders who are still around should think about that.
Do away with co-anglers and marshals, go back to the rule that had two pros in the boat, paying the same amount, sharing the boat control time and exchanging fishing ideas. It worked at B.A.S.S. for 20 years without problems.
Go back to horsepower controls that will reduce the cost of rigs. Change the scoring so you count every bass that's caught – this will keep anglers fishing instead of boat-racing around looking for five bass.
B.A.S.S. and FLW should look at dividing the USA into divisions – North, South, East, West and Central. This would provide events with less travel cost. It would also provide more events to qualify anglers for the world championships events that could be conducted in large cities with sports shows like the Classic and Forrest Wood Cup. This would boost the industry and promote the sport across America and around the world. But it must not be controlled by TV people, it must be in control of bass fishing people, such as a pro bass fishing commission board of directors.
Today the sport of professional bass fishing in being controlled by the TV people who want to make things happen that will sell TV shows. It should be controlled by anglers and industry people who are interested in the sport of bass fishing for everyone to enjoy.
This sport will not survive with a handful of anglers breaking even and the rest going broke. The industry had better take a look at where we are heading.