What’s the greatest thing about fishing? The relaxation, the challenge or the time outdoors? How about the best part about tournament bass fishing? The money and fame? The attempt to push oneself to the next level?
It’s a trick question, obviously. There is no correct answer. And that’s, quite possibly, the answer.
Fishing gives a person whatever he or she wants. I know a guy who enjoys fishing more than half of the guys I see competing in $100,000 bass tournaments. To him, it’s a gift from God, and he does all of his work either in a rickety old boat or through a hole in the ice. He’s never even owned a GPS unit or a tungsten sinker and his shallow-water anchor is still on a rope.
So it goes without saying that bass tournaments can be whatever we want them to be. Sure, there’s a basic business model that seems to be a good starting point: Collect money, and pay back as much of it as possible to the competitors. Eliminate luck if feasible, and stick to a strict set of rules.
In today’s age, we have two major organizations running the bulk of professional tournaments in this country, with a few other groups also in the market. And, while the direction of each of the major trails seemed parallel for quite some time, I’m beginning to wonder if they are now taking different directions.
For a while, I thought I had things figured out. It seemed as if B.A.S.S. had propelled its athletes further, and that FLW was holding on to an ideal that wasn’t in sync with today’s world of pro fishing. It hit me hard when Randall Tharp won the Forrest Wood Cup.
I made reference to this previously when I mentioned an upcoming piece on co-anglers and their place in pro fishing. At first, I felt as if there was no way for a tournament that included amateurs to ever excel to the level I found so appealing.
I mean, how could FLW possibly consider this sport on caliber with the glitz and glam of NASCAR? How could they think they’re building their athletes up to rock-star status? There’s no amateur in Junior’s car while he’s racing; Tiger doesn’t head into the woods to look for his “co-golfers” ball. Come on, we’re trying to build heroes here!
And then it hit me.
That’s probably not the goal of FLW, nor has it ever been. I could be all wet here, and, for good reason, I haven’t had a conversation to confirm or deny my theory, but I think the point of FLW is to continue on their chosen path with their same set of goals. And I firmly believe that their core principle is that fishing is fun, it’s a good family activity, and it can be enjoyed by all walks of life.
Sure, they create their “heroes” while shelling out a half mil at the conclusion of the season. But I think many, myself included, may have gone a bit too far to assume the best thing for pro fishing is to elevate the players into a status perceived as unattainable to the average bass junky. In fact, it may be the exact opposite.
I think a primary goal of FLW is to invite anyone and everyone to participate in tournaments at some level, whether as an FLW touring pro or a BFL co-angler. I believe they see that it’s very important to make everyone feel included, as we are all members of the customer base.
And, before you all start addressing the fact that one of FLW’s goals is to sell boats, let me say that I’m well aware of that principle, and it’s probably the most successful business model in the history of the fishing industry.
Yes, FLW was one of the first to offer massive contingencies for anglers using their endorsed products, most notably Ranger boats. I remember thinking, at first, that no tournament prize was substantial enough to influence the buying decisions of such big-ticket items. Boy, was I wrong.
Within a few years of FLW building its brand, contingency programs, and EverStart trail, I began seeing a bunch of new Rangers in my neck of the woods. Why not? Some very smart person decided that Americans were going to buy bass boats and fish tournaments anyway. Therefore, having big bonuses in those events for utilizing specific brands would influence that buying public. And, from what I can tell, Ranger is then very secure of its ability to maintain its market share with repeat buyers based on the quality of the product.
It was, and is, a brilliant plan. In fact, I can’t believe no other major manufacturer has been successful in similar ventures, most notably the engine companies.
So the goal is to include everyone in some shape or fashion in the event, and give them a good reason to purchase a sponsored product. That makes sense. And, when it comes to payout, their “introductory trials” like the BFLs are often the best paying at the grass roots level, and the EverStart trail pays the highest percentage back to fishermen of any triple-A tour, without even taking these “bonuses” into consideration.
In addition, as always, FLW runs a tight ship, and a no-nonsense business. They continue to operate more fishing tournaments than any group in history. And they do it very, very well.
But I really think their goal is to run them for the fishermen, as much or more so than the fans, and that’s a major difference we’re seeing lately. At no time in the near future do I think we’ll hear any “Boom-Shaka-Lakas” or “J-J-J-Giant Bass!” out of the mouth of an FLW weigh-in emcee. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that whatsoever. I know as a fisherman, I’m happy, and I plan to continue to compete on their trails.
Again, these are just my opinions. I probably should include an additional disclaimer here and note that I spoke with no one at FLW, or Ranger Boats, and came up with all of this one sleepless evening.
But, like fishing itself, I think the choices in tournament trails allows anglers to get whatever they want out of it. There’s a contingent of pros happy with each path. And there’s a good number of professional fishermen who are successful today because FLW gave them an outlet, and a sponsorship package, to pursue their career, regardless of which trail they currently support.
One final note: Like in the past, I think we will continue to see popularity and media focus cycle. At one time, it looked like FLW was going to take over the world of pro fishing. Later, ESPN became involved with B.A.S.S., and it appeared nothing could stop the original. Today, it appears things go back and forth.
Maybe it’s the economy, maybe it’s the current administration, and maybe it’s the price of gas. Who knows? But I, for one, am glad we continue to have choices. Everyone gets a little something different out of fishing.
And therein lies its magic.
(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.)