Thereís been some buzz lately in my corner of the world with the recent cancellation of a competition day at the Lake Erie Bassmaster Northern Open. And while I try to keep things fresh and new each week in Balogís Bass War, maybe we should delve a little further into the subject.
Why not? Things are slow right now in the world of pro fishing; the FLW Tour is at recess and Elite Series anglers have just the fan-driven All-Star event left later this week.
Iím curious to see just how that turns out. This will be the first such even in the North, and fan support for bass tournaments in Michigan has never been stellar. But the event takes place in the land of VanDam, and I would think some big smallmouth would make the trip across the stage. Should prove interesting.
Getting back to our discussion, what we saw at the recent Open was a cancellation on day 2 due to weather, then a full-field day 3 and the winner being decided based on 2 days of competition. Some argued B.A.S.S. did the right thing, that Lake Erie was too treacherous, that competitors would have forced the issue if allowed to fish, making long runs against grueling seas.
Others argue that B.A.S.S. should have restricted competitors to a lesser portion of the tournament waters, like Sandusky Bay, where the fishermen could avoid dangerous conditions.
Still others stand by the belief that a tournament publicized for Lake Erie should, in fact, take place on Lake Erie, regardless of conditions, and that the competitors can make their own judgments as to fishing locations. In other words, keep tournament waters consistent.
Letís start with a little history.
ďBack in the day,Ē as the Old Man says on Pawnstars, there was no such thing as cancellation. Veterans of tournaments from a bygone era spin yarns of hero-like feats not recognized in todayís world of camera operators, observers and marshals. I, too, remember those days.
In the early days of bass tournaments on Lake Erie, if the wind was howling in the predawn darkness, a choice had to be made: fish, or forfeit the entry. A few times I did each.
The tournament would still go on, some competitors would still go out on the lake, and, inevitably someone would win. The old phrase, "Youíre crazy for going out there,Ē would be overheard at the weigh-in, amidst anglers pulling their drawstrings tighter on old PVC raincoats, and the crowd would slowly retreat back to the warmth of their trucks.
Such mentality wasnít just reserved for local events, either. Who can forget the 1980s announcer on Bassmaster TV coining the phrase ďgut-check timeĒ when the pros visited the St. Lawrence? I remember Jimmy Houston running an inboard/outboard Ranger at one event in order to travel safely through the rollers. The idea of canceling never entered the equation.
Remember, this is back well before the big, secure boats of today. Jackplates and hulls broke routinely; I had a motor almost come completely off my boat. Todayís boats are aircraft carriers compared to what we took across the Lakes at the time. And, yes, myself and others made countless trips across Lake Erie in conditions far worse than what constitutes a ďday offĒ in todayís era, including the recent day in question.
However, in todayís world, cancellations seem to be rather routine. If my memory serves me correctly, B.A.S.S. has canceled at least one competition day in three of the last four Open events held on western Lake Erie. Is this getting out of hand? Certainly it changes the outcomes of the events, right?
Well, itís the tournament directorís call. In the end, Iím sure the priority of the director is to ensure each competitor makes it back to weigh-in. Guaranteeing that on the Great Lakes, however, is often easier said than done.
On three separate occasions, Iíve rescued bass fishermen who had swamped their boats on Lake Erie. Once, the lake was quite rough, and each competitor had already had a talk with God at that point. However, on another occasion, the lake was quite calm, but the boat wasnít seaworthy. In all three cases, the fishermen were quite scared, and Iíve yet to see any of them back on the big lake.
But when a tournament angler signs up to fish Lake Erie, in my opinion, he or she should be well-prepared to do so. Not Lake Erie when itís nice out, not only on pretty days. Lake Erie, regardless, on the posted tournament dates.
And, in no way,should the venue be changed due to rough weather, as this changes everything. Competitors enter and practice for the event; the locationís published nearly a year prior. To suddenly change the venue to a totally different location and fishery is unfair. In our case, Sandusky Bay, or Maumee Bay, Ohio, are as different to the open waters of Lake Erie as Okeechobee and Lake Powell.
If I wanted to rotate through water Iíd never seen, Iíd sign up for Megabucks. That may be a fan favorite for big league pros, but itís not whatís advertised in the ďno off limitsĒ style Open events. I applaud B.A.S.S.' Chris Bowes for sticking to a similar point of view at the recent event.
And, as Iíve mentioned several times in this space, being a tournament director is quite possibly the worst job in the world. No fishing is involved, and everybody tells you how to do your job.
So itís their call regarding canceling for safety. But where does it end? Rough seas, high water, large-volume dam discharges, floating debris? Pirates, unusually high alligator populations, wasp nests in overhanging trees?
The turbulent conditions we recently faced at the Open were playing directly into the hands of several big-water fishermen, myself included, who had practiced for such conditions, had backup areas and had vast experience when dealing with Erieís fury.
Imagine being a current specialist who spends a bunch of time fishing below the dams on the Tennessee River. Just as a major event approaches, big storms bring high water and increased flow, playing right into your hands. An unknown major current break was sure to be your ace-in-the-hole, like it had been for decades prior. And then, the night before the tournament, the event gets canceled for high water.
Boy, thatís gotta hurt.
But B.A.S.S. took what they thought was the best, safest approach by canceling a day. Thatís fine; itís their call. They have a lot more to lose than me, you, or other armchair quarterbacks.
But I think the proper approach would have been to extend the event to a final, third day. Whether that was Sunday or the following Tuesday is irrelevant. Competitors were advertised a 3-day event with a reduced field on day 3, and they should be given that event.
Would any of these scenarios have changed the outcome of the tournament? Quite possibly, although it seemed as if Iaconelli was invincible, regardless. But it sure keeps me wondering what if Ö
And that, my friends, is tournament bass fishing.
(Joe Balog is the often outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)