Well, the Bassmaster Classic Wild Card event has come and gone, so it’s naturally relevant that we take a little time here to comment on the string of events. The tournament, the last to determine a 2014 Classic qualifier, was open to just about any competitor who fished an entire circuit of major B.A.S.S. events, leaving several hundred eligible. The field capped out at a lowly 49, as I was afraid of and hinted to earlier.
Chad Morgenthaler won the thing, and he couldn’t care less whether there were 40 competitors or 4,000. He’s going to the Classic, and rightfully so. Morgenthaler has always been one of those career grinders. He’s good with the media and sponsors, and he’s made a job out of pro fishing without ever hitting the big time. Although he’s won a pile of money, he hasn’t claimed a real feather for his cap.
Perhaps this season will be his breakthrough year, with a Classic birth secured and the loose ends tied up on his upcoming Elite campaign. He’s definitely capable of excelling into the top tier of touring pros – and staying there.
It’s interesting to point out, though, that, had it not been for his title sponsor Jasper Engines and Transmissions, Chad himself commented that he wouldn’t have gone to Florida for the event. Instead, he had chosen to play it close to the vest and save his hard-earned dollars for expenses during the 2014 Elite season.
In essence, that mindset further proves what the majority of anglers feel: Consistency on the Tour is more important than a flash-in-the-pan win, yet B.A.S.S. still promotes the latter.
I’m glad Morgenthaler won, or at least an angler of his stature. Sure, I was pulling for Roland Martin (who wasn’t), as I’d love to see him give one of his customary big speeches for a last time on fishing’s biggest stage, his ear-to-ear grin and perfect hair flowing at any age. Somehow, however, Roland finished last on his home turf.
Either way, Morgenthaler represents the kind of guy who I think belongs in the Classic, rather than, say, a local who lucked into having the event in his back yard. But the tournament was one I doubt B.A.S.S. will be hosting again anytime soon, given the extremely low turnout. It seems the “Classic carrot” we’ve spoken about so many times here lost its appeal when competitors began staring down a thousand-mile drive and virtually no chance at recovering expenses.
Make no mistake; I think it’s great that B.A.S.S. continues to try different things in order to expand the reach of its tournament trails. I still remember the WCF, where competitors raced boats in between fishing derbies. For years prior, I had conjured up images of just that type of thing. I mean, who wouldn’t go along with that?
Bass boats are super cool, and fast, and every bass fisherman really just wants to race his boat anyway, right? Then I graduated high school and found out that the rest of the world isn’t that crazy about the racing aspect. Oh well, they tried.
Pro fishing’s seen 4-man team events, fish-offs, SuperStars and Megabucks. There’s been Top 50 cuts, Top 30, 12, 10 and 5. Weights carrying over and weights starting over. Who knows what’s next? But at least they’re continuing to try new things. The Wild Card, however, should have been quickly sniffed out, voted on, and vetoed.
Morgenthaler commented that, with the win, the trip to Florida was very valuable, and understandably so. He’s been swamped with interviews and radio shows since, and his sponsors are reaching for his services and notoriety.
With the limited field size and guaranteed payout regardless, it turns out about 60 percent of the field received a check. Make no mistake about it, though, 6th place and higher lost money considering the entry fee and expenses, which drastically sours arguments of any other outcome.
A few weeks ago, I took time away from my complaining to really consider the path of the professional side of fishing. Sure, I may know all of the problems, but what about coming up with a few answers, right?
My point is this: the Classic and Cup should be reserved for touring pros, the triple-A Opens and EverStarts should be qualifiers for the tours, and not just anyone should be able to jump in as a pro whenever they want. Also, the tours need to stagger the pay to allow fishermen finishing in the middle of the pack the opportunity to earn a decent living, and have enough events to fish that pro fishermen can be just that, rather than seminar speakers or salesmen at Bass Pro.
Finally, there needs to be a way that triple-A fishermen can also compete without having to take three mortgages on their house, max out their credit cards or work weekends for discounts on plastic worms.
Suddenly, it hit me: What if there were more options? What if there were multiple divisions of each of the pro tours? Say three divisions with four events each? A guy like Gary Klein or Mark Rose, established forever, could just fish all the divisions and stay active all year long, banking $10K or more once a month. An intro guy, who’s hot in the Opens or EverStarts and wants to stick a toe in the water, could fish one division, drive less, take off work a few weeks, and not throw away his future if it doesn’t work out. Given a good showing, he qualifies for the Classic or Cup, and may be on his way.
However, when he gets his doors blown off fishing against VanDam and Morgan, he still has his medical insurance at work and a roof over his head, other than that of his truck …
FLW has gone down this path a little in the past with the now defunct FLW Series tournaments. Those events were dissolved for, what I believe at the time, were financial/lack of sponsorship issues. But could they come back?
I posed this scenario to both B.A.S.S. and FLW about a week ago. I received a welcome response from Kathy Fennel at FLW, but no comment yet from B.A.S.S.. I will try again this week and report back to you all on my findings next Thursday.
Until then, congrats to Chad Morganthaler opening the latest chapter on his career. As fans, we may want to keep an eye on him this February at Guntersville, as momentum is the best lure in any pro’s tackle box.
(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.)