By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Have you ever seen a fully wrapped tournament boat that was only 12 feet long and powered by a tiny outboard motor with a steering handle? Such a craft would look pretty silly on one of the big lakes here in the U.S.
Not so in China, however, where most bodies of water are tiny by comparison and competitive bass fishing is still in its infancy.
Scott Martin, his wife Suzanne and sons Jacob and Reed recently got an up-close look at the state of the sport in that country on a 10-day trip organized by Okuma, one of his sponsors. Okuma's roots are Taiwanese, but the company is a backer of one of the largest tournaments in China and sent Martin over as an ambassador.
"It was very interesting to see," he said. "The level of enthusiasm and passion was very high and almost all of the competitors had tournament jerseys and nice-looking gear. A lot of the equipment they were using was made there in the country and it was good stuff.
"It was a professional operation and the weigh-in was done right."
The tournament was held at Lake Lushan near Nanjing, which is the capital of the Jiangsu province in the eastern portion of the country. Afterward, the family traveled to Beijing for a few days of sight-seeing.
"It was literally the other side of the world, and it's very neat to see how big this world really is and the potential that this sport has to grow."
Second Visit to Asia
Martin had never been to China before, but it was his second visit to the Asian continent. When he was 10, he accompanied his father, Roland, on a trip to Japan that was put on by Shimano.
"They wanted him to go over there and fish in their very first sanctioned tournament, and me, my mom and my sister went along and we spent 2 weeks there," he said. "Now, 27 years later, everything kind of came full-circle. When I got the phone call asking me to bring my family over to China to help promote the sport, I couldnt wait to go."
Around the time of that long-ago excursion to Japan, the Chinese began stocking some of their lakes with bass as an additional food source for their burgeoning population, which now exceeds 1.3 billion people. The advent of the Internet provided an introduction to recreational fishing, and an interest in the competitive aspect of the sport naturally developed among the country's most passionate anglers. FLW has begun conducting events there.
Martin said the boats are the most conspicuous difference between a Chinese derby and an American event. The largest he saw might've been 15 feet.
"They were all aluminum, either flat- or V-bottom, and they build wooden decks for them with carpeting and (cutouts for) recessed trolling-motor pedals. Almost all of them were wrapped and there was a good mixture of American and traditional Chinese companies represented.
Tournament boats in China sport familiar graphics, but they're much smaller than the ones used in the U.S.
"They're very fond of American brands over there and they really like American lures I had a bunch of stuff that I was giving out to the guys. There's a group of guys that would be considered their best, but it's way too early on for anybody to be making a living by just fishing because that money isn't there yet. It's all about the passion right now."
High Level of Hospitality
Most of the lakes in China that contain bass (he heard some referred to as "tanks") are privately owned and range from 1,000 to 5,000 acres in size, so the tiny boats aren't a hindrance. The Lushan event he attended featured 25 teams, including two from outside the country (one from Spain and one from Russia).
"They treat it like a real sport, and that was encouraging to see," he said. "Even the local officials mayors and people who run the local government were there to support it. Everyone views it for what it is, which is a challenge to go out and figure out how to catch the fish.
"It says a lot about how many anglers there could potentially be over there and the impact they could have on the industry as a whole."
He said the non-fishing portion of the trip, which included visits to the Great Wall and other landmarks, was both fun and educational and he raved, about the treatment his family received from the Chinese people throughout the journey.
"It made me realize that when people visit me, I probably don't do a good enough job of accommodating them. Everybody always had a smile on their face and they paid attention to every little detail.
"That's the one thing I took from that culture that they really want to be great hosts."