Americans have always fished for freshwater bass. These hardy fish are found in streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and man-made reservoirs in all U.S. states but Alaska, and also swim naturally in Canada. Though bass are unique to North America, because of interest in American bass fishing the fish have been stocked in several foreign countries, including Japan, China, Mexico, Spain, Italy, Morocco, Zimbabwe and others. Some of these countries also hold bass tournaments.
In the United States, documented interest in bass-specific fishing started in the 1800s, and the first book on bass fishing was published in 1881, by Dr. James Henshall. Perhaps in an indication of things to come, the book was almost completely sold out before it reached the shelves.
Ray Scott and B.A.S.S.
Bass fishing didn't really take off until a man named Ray Scott came on the scene.
On a rainy day in 1967, Scott, an insurance salesman at the time, suddenly had a now-legendary vision: his "brainstorm in a rainstorm." He saw anglers competing in bass fishing tournaments, he saw thousands of bass anglers banding together, he saw magazines, television, the works. And he made it all happen.
In 1968 Scott founded B.A.S.S. (the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society) and set about creating a new professional sport. Immediately he signed up 6,000 members and held the $7,000 All-American Invitational BASS tournament.
B.A.S.S. boomed under Scott, who sold the company in 1986 to its next CEO, Helen Sevier, and a group of investors. Under their leadership B.A.S.S. grew to at one point encompass 600,000 members, 8 publications (including the flagship Bassmaster Magazine), television shows on ESPN2, a fishing techniques seminar business and of course the tournament circuits, including the flagship (at that time) Bassmaster Tour, formerly the Bassmaster Top 150s.
Irwin Jacobs, Operation Bass and the FLW Tour
The FLW Tour (named for Forrest L. Wood, the well-known founder of Ranger-brand bass boats) was launched in 1996 and immediately became competition for the Bassmaster trail. FLW's higher purses attracted the top anglers. ESPN covered the events, the finals of which featured boats decaled like NASCAR cars. For the first time, non-fishing companies came in as tour sponsors. Talk of the new tour spread through the fishing community like wildfire.
The man responsible for the FLW Tour and for shaking up the sport is Irwin Jacobs, a successful Minneapolis-based businessman. Jacobs is credited with injecting new energy into bass fishing, notably increasing purse sizes, expanding media awareness of professional fishing and attracting mainstream corporate sponsors, notably Wal-Mart.
Among Jacobs' numerous accomplishments are getting FLW Anglers of the Year on the coveted Wheaties box, and raising the bar for television coverage: On Nov. 7, 1999, FOX aired the first live network broadcast of a bass-fishing tournament. More than 2 million households tuned in to watch anglers compete for the $600,000 first prize.
Just before launching the FLW Tour, Jacobs purchased Operation Bass, known for its successful Red Man-sponsored amateur fishing circuit. In 2001 Wal-Mart took over this sponsorship and renamed the amateur circuit the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League. Between the Wal-Mart BFL amateur and FLW Tour professional circuits is the EverStart Series.
Operation Bass — renamed FLW Outdoors in December 2001 — continues to expand its vision and influence in competitive fishing. In addition to its competitive bass events, it also conducts the RCL series of walleye events and in 2005 is launching two saltwater trails: the Kingfish Tour and the Redfish Series.
Jacobs also owns Genmar Holdings Inc., one of the world's largest manufacturers of motorized recreational boats, and both companies — Genmar and FLW Outdoors — benefit from that verticality. Among other brands, Genmar owns the Ranger, Stratos and Champion bass boat lines.
ESPN and BASS
On April 4, 2001, Walt Disney Co. subsidiary ESPN purchased BASS, Inc. for an amount rumored to be in the $40 million range. ESPN had a long history with outdoor programming, notably Jerry McKinnis' "The Fishin' Hole," which is the network's second-longest running program after SportsCenter.
Since the purchase, ESPN, through its then-new business unit ESPN Outdoors, brought its expertise to bear by substantially upgrading the telecasts of Bassmaster Tour events, which has also caused a chain reaction of sorts as other TV production in bass fishing on other networks has improved.
ESPN Outdoors and BASS (no longer B.A.S.S. with the periods, except in the current BASS logo) also created in 2004 the Bassmaster Elite 50 series of events that has a NASCAR-style points race, and in 2005 will have a new Weekend Series of one-day events for weekend anglers.
In 2005, ESPN Outdoors' Saturday-morning "block" of outdoors shows on ESPN2 will center around bass fishing and will include four new shows, two of which are knockoffs of the sports network's most popular shows, SportsCenter (BassCenter) and Pardon the Interruption (Loudmouth Bass). This will mark the first time in the history of the sport that solely-in-studio shows will be attempted.
BASS announced in October 2004 that in 2005 its corporate headquarters will be moving from Montgomery, Ala. to Disney property in Orlando, Fla.
On August 1, 2001, the first (and still only) independent news coverage ever in the sport of professional bass fishing hit the airwaves, as did the first (and still only) statistical World Rankings of professional bass anglers. BassFan.com and the BassFan World Rankings have influenced and continue to influence the sport in major ways. BassFan.com continues to be the leader in viewers (eyeballs) across all media in fishing, and BassFan is expanding into areas that it believes complements the industry, the sport (including the two major organizations, BASS and FLW Outdoors), professional anglers and their fans.
Last updated: 10/04