Well, it’s that time of year when hunters take to the woods and bass nuts collectively give a sigh of relief at the sight of their vacant fishing hotspots. The boat ramps are deserted and the fishing is wonderful, but the hunting is as well; and then there’s fall projects and yard clean-ups to tend to. Oh, if October could just last forever.
Soon, 2013 will be just a memory.
I, like thousands of others who compete occasionally in FLW events, received my copy of the organization’s 2014 calendar, complete with full-page photos of the best pros in the league. I took a brief look and found the Tharp spread for August quite humorous, as he’s featured reeling in another lunker with the Forrest Wood Cup propped up on the front deck with him.
Even more incredible was the Brent Ehrler photo for November. Here, Ehrler is posing in the boat with about an 8-pounder. Behind him, however, it’s blatantly obvious that the photo was shot with Ehrler’s rod locker bar still attached to the boat!As if Ehrler just happened to have a rod in the truck, didn’t even unlock his gear, and pulled out a trophy on his first cast. Come on, photo guy; you gotta catch that kind of thing!
Joking aside, one other item really caught my eye when I opened up the calendar. There, leading off, was a full-page ad for the Mann’s Three-For-All lure, with the caption reading “Tournament Restricted? Not This Bait!”
Houston, we have a problem. Already.
While the last thing I want to do is devote any more space in this column to the umbrella rig (can we just put this to bed already?), it appears we are about to open yet another can of worms.
For those of you unfamiliar with this lure, the Three-For-All is a soft-plastic, swimbait-style body, molded to look like, well, three soft plastic lures. One hook is incorporated into the center swimbait, while the baits on each side (attached by a molded soft-plastic collar) are simply dummies. Three bodies, three tails, three minnow-mimicking swimmers.
And, while this lure is drastically different than the traditional umbrella rig as we know it, the bait performs the same function: to imitate a school of baitfish.
Many readers perceive the umbrella rig as a foul-hooking, water-seining contraption that snares everything in its path. The Mann’s lure, or category of lures (as it will likely evolve into), appears much more “humane” and less controversial than those that have been banned on major circuits. But, for the anglers who argue that the umbrella rig method is to blame, we’re likely in for some serious debate.
I’m sure that debate is the last thing that tournament officials are looking forward to. Just when I thought they had laid all doubt to rest, there it is, front and center, in the calendar of the organization that has had so much back-and-forth banter on this subject in the first place!
Many touring pros who adamantly voiced opinions against umbrella rigs claim that it’s not the number of hooks that make the rig so deadly, but the number of swimming bodies, including dummies. In fact, it’s become common knowledge that rigs with large numbers of dummy baits perform just as well as those with a high number of hooks, as the chasing bass simply continue to bite the rig until eventually hooked by the center, or hook-wielding, jighead.
Word on the street is that some pros are already up in arms about the Three-For-All lure, and anything else employing multiple bodies. But are these anti-riggers just being crybabies? Will they ever be satisfied with any presentation other than a basic jig, crank or worm? Where will it end?
Here we go again …
Regardless, I felt we would see some controversy with the “grey lines” in the rules of the organizations, specifically those of FLW. In fact, as was stated here prior, the FLW umbrella rig ruling simply states “Alabama Rigs and similar umbrella-type rigs are not permitted."
B.A.S.S., on the other hand, defines its Elite Series ruling a little further, stating: “Any umbrella-type rigging, harness or other device designed to hold more than one lure at a time – with or without hooks – is not allowed. Such rigging, harness or device cannot be added to a single lure as described above."
Mann’s is an iconic brand in American bass fishing, and the company is not to blame for this issue. But the problem that appears to be already surfacing is one of the tournament officials’ authority to determine the rules.
Okay, so maybe the lure in question is allowed. But what if we made the “collar” one of hard plastic so that it could support two, three, four, or more additional “bodies”? What, then do we have… an umbrella rig?
Again, the issue is not what I perceive of each lure designed to mimic a school of baitfish. The spinnerbait has been doing that for years, yet it continues to be legal. The problem lies in the fact that there will not be a cut and dried determination of this ruling unless it is spelled out with incredible detail in the tournament guidelines. Even then, we’re likely to see further problems.
We can’t have an official, or ruling party, make this a case-by-case issue. How will it look if a lure produced by one manufacturer is allowed, but not another? What if one company is a tournament trail sponsor, while the other isn’t?
To my knowledge, nowhere else in bass fishing competition is there such a shady area. In the case of other equipment, if a rod is 8-foot, 1-inch, or a motor cranks out 251 horsepower, they’re illegal, plain and simple. But, in the case of the question of multiple lures, I’m afraid it’s not that simple.
Perhaps the final ruling will be one stating that all lures must imitate a single prey item. Even then, this may be a case of opinion-based judgments.
I’ve strongly considered why I continue to spend more time on this subject. In fact, I almost trashed this very column in favor of something more simple and smiley.
But the fact remains that we are seeing the development of a subject matter unprecedented in modern bass fishing tournaments. Sure, there has been controversy along the way with the growth of our sport, but, here, the danger lies in the interpretation of the rule as much as the rule itself. We simply cannot afford to have any room for opinion in these policies.
While I, like many of you, have had my fill of the U-rig debate, we need to get back to a clear direction on this, just like all other subjects. Believe me, I don’t like it anymore than you do. There’s sure to be an entire page eventually devoted to the subject in the tournament rulebooks.
No gas stashed on shore. No live bait. No beer in the boat. No one under 16. Everything else is clearly spelled out. Let’s not leave room for an asterisk in the rules on this one.
(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.)