Like many of you, I scour the media for any information on the big-name pros. I’m always amazed at their demonstrations of skill when fishing for big money. I love how the cream seems to rise to the top when a briefcase full of hundreds comes out.
Early on, I was frantic with excitement when some of the big names of B.A.S.S. dipped their toes into the FLW water. Watching Kevin VanDam, Gary Klein, Rick Clunn and David Fritts chasing the six-figure payouts in the late '90s was epic.
Today, following Brent Ehrler’s success on MLF has been a highlight, as it finally gives us a look at modern-day touring pros from competing circuits pitted against each other on a level playing field, although in the smallest of examples.
But a recent stroll here through BassFan really got me thinking when I read the brief column on the status of the 14 two-tour pros for 2014. I feel a closer inspection is needed.
As reported, five have cashed checks in every event this year. Greg Hackney just pocketed 25 grand from FLW. Randall Tharp is currently in the Top 10 of the Angler of the Year standings on both circuits. And of the five tour-level events this year, a two-tour pro has won three. That’s pretty amazing if you stop and think about it.
Over 250 anglers compete on these circuits, yet a group of 14 holds the majority of wins.
Oh, and Tharp just made a run at winning the Classic.
The events have been held on the most diverse winter-fishing locations across the country, from Hartwell to Rayburn to the deepest part of Florida. Surely the outcomes have been no coincidence.
What’s even more amazing is the schedule that these guys seem to be keeping. I, for one, find myself preparing for any major tournament weeks in advance. Understandably, this is not an option for many touring pros, but in the case of the 14 we’re discussing, the thought of any preparation whatsoever seems unrealistic.
The two-tour anglers are currently in the middle of a 6-week run, where practice for the next event begins immediately following the conclusion of the preceding one. Not the following weekend; the following day. Throw in a few marathon drives just for good measure, not to mention the endless duties involved in operating a business, and these guys have to be running thin. Yet they continue to perform.
I’m not sure how it’s possible, but I love it.
Another mind-boggling fact to consider is the amount of time that is often devoted to equipment upkeep and management, primarily tackle. Tour pros are known for their tedious care in every aspect of their rods, reels and, especially, lures. How in the world these guys pack for a 6-week run is beyond me. I’m guessing many are trading any sleep they may steal for tackle prep.
The highlight of it all is the validity such a routine is bringing to professional tournament fishing. Back in the olden days, many tour pros performed similar miracles by competing in events, literally, all over the continent, from the major Western circuits to showcase events in Canada. They needed to do so to survive, long before modern-day team deals and non-endemic sponsors. Now I’m by no means inferring that today’s pros have it made, but the potential for income is greater, and tournament trails are holding fewer professional-level events. Thus, pros are competing less.
As we’ve publicized in the past, this has really been a source of concern with many of today’s best. And 14 have said enough’s enough.
Continuing to perform at the top, with little or no practice, adds to the mystique of the true professional. Such is a far greater accomplishment than the angler who wins after spending nearly a month on a lake prior to an event. It shows that winning tournaments has a lot more to do with skill than any other factor.
Gone is the idea in the layman’s mind that touring pros win big just because they can devote endless time to their preparation, without the commitment of a “day job."
In addition, I feel that the continued strong performances by many of these key players is, undoubtedly, getting their peers thinking about possibly entering the same ring. Without question, momentum and the associated confidence are two key components in winning bass tournaments. We see that at the top time and again, and we’ve already been witness to a perfect example in 2014 with Brett Hite’s early victories.
I think that, by showing top performance is possible, these key players will lead others in the same direction. And, although I certainly would never want to try such a feat, I can immediately appreciate those who do, and think it will add greatly to the sport.
In the future, I long for a sport in which a professional tournament fishermen can be a true professional athlete. Not a television show host, not a seminar speaker, and not a blogger. Like other professional athletes, he can derive income from endorsements and sponsors who support him for his dominance on the field of play; not for his knowledge of Facebook. And he can simply travel from event to event and perform to the best of his ability, not unlike a pro golfer, race-car driver or even poker champ.
Am I saying I want to see an end to all the extra-curricular activities many pros are involved in? No. But I’m saying I’d love to see the opportunity for the professionals to make that choice on their own, rather than feeling forced to play another hand.
I think having both tours mindful of scheduling, and seeing top-level accomplishments by those competing on both, puts us on the right path. With such outcomes in the books already for 2014, and the associated media attention, I feel we’ll see similar scheduling in the future – and more pros making the plunge.
And I’ll be cheering them on the whole way.
(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.)