By Todd Ceisner
Lost among all the new product buzz at ICAST last week was the announcement that the U.S. Angling Confederation will be sending a team of pro bass anglers to South Africa in October to compete in the FIPSED Black Bass World Championships.
The event is scheduled for Oct. 2-8 at the Vaal River, a 33-mile long fishery roughly an hour’s drive from Johannesburg, the capital of South Africa.
Representing the U.S. will be a group that has five career Angler of the Year titles and four Bassmaster Classic and Forrest Wood Cup wins: Scott Canterbury, David Dudley, David Fritts, Scott Martin (team captain), James Watson, Fred Roumbanis, Mark Rose and Lionel Botha.
While few know what to expect from the event or the venue, it could be a major step forward in promoting the sport on a global stage. It’ll mark the third time a team of U.S. bass anglers will compete in the world championship. In 2009, when the event was held at the Rio San Juan in Mexico, the American team of Gary Yamamoto, Derrick Yamamoto, Mark Lassagne, Charlie Weyer, Tom Mann Jr. and Todd Faircloth captured the gold in both the overall team and individual team events. In 2006, Team USA took bronze.
The Black Bass World Championships will be a team-style event in which the countries compete for medals. According to U.S. Angling, the event is part of a growing effort spearheaded by the Confederation Internationale de Peche Sportive (CIPS) to make bass fishing an Olympic sport. An application for recognition has already been submitted to the International Olympic Committee.
“We are thrilled that these accomplished anglers have agreed to represent our country in these championships” said U.S. Angling president Joel McDearmon. “The angling world will be watching as this team expands bass fishing’s popularity worldwide. We are determined to showcase America’s mastery of the sport and bring home the gold.”
The countries currently scheduled to compete this year are: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, USA. Ten countries made up the field for the last two world championships. Others are expected to register in the coming weeks and months. Portugal has won two of the last three gold medals and also won it all in 2010 and 2005.
Canterbury, a winner on the FLW Tour, said it was an honor to be invited to compete on the world stage.
“You’re sort of nervous and excited at the same time,” said Canterbury. “I’m excited for the opportunity to get to represent the USA and bass fishing. To go halfway across the world and fish for bass is another thing I’ve always wanted to do. I’m really excited about it and looking forward to it and just hope we can win and maybe have the U.S. host the event in the future.”
He said he wasn’t aware that there was a black bass world championship and hopes that by being part of the first Team USA, it’ll spark something bigger for the sport.
“It’s exciting to be a part of it at the beginning where you hope it starts it and it can turn around and be global,” he added.
At this point, the team is self-funded, but sponsorship opportunities are available. In addition, a GoFundMe page has been set up for individuals to make contributions.
Having Botha, who fished two seasons on the FLW Tour, on the U.S. squad will give the team a bit of an advantage in that the South Africa native can tell his teammates what to expect as far as the culture and the fishing.
Botha is due to become a U.S. citizen in September so he’ll be eligible to compete in his homeland against his native country, something that hasn’t been lost on his former teammates. He was the captain of the South African team in this event for four years.
“Now, I’m going to South Africa to fish against my friends,” he said. “You don’t want to see Facebook. It’s not good. I’m a traitor now. A lot of my friends that will be on the South African team that I’ve spoken to have said I better bring my ‘A’ game.”
He knows the competitors from the host country will be doing their homework in order to do well against the U.S. team and others.
“It’s going to be tough. They are really good on their water,” Botha said. “They’re part-time fishermen there and we’re taking full-time fishermen there. They’ll figure something out whether I’m a part of it or not. The caliber of angler that we’re taking we should be able to get the job done, but the home-water advantage plays a big part.”
Botha said it’s winter right now in South Africa and depending on how cold it gets there, the fishing in October should fall just after the normal time that bass spawn.
“Depending on how cold the winter is, it could carry on into October,” he added. “We’re hoping that it’s cold and stays colder.”
Botha couldn’t think of a U.S. river that matches up with the Vaal, but said it’s lined with willow trees and reeds. The key factor between now and the tournament will be water levels.
“Provided we don’t get a lot of rain and the (Vaal) Dam doesn’t fill up and they don’t open the gates, it should be good,” he said. “If they open those gates, it’ll be a tough tournament. That’ll change everything.”