After what seems like an eternity away from bass fishing, it’s finally my turn to dust the sticks off. While I’m immersed in fishing nearly every day from a business standpoint and I closely follow my heroes on tour, my time spent competing in tournaments has painfully lessened over the last few years.
Expansion of my business in the waterfowl and ice-fishing industries has dug into my bass passion slightly, but the real killer is simply time. In order to survive in today’s world of marketing and promotions, where updates are instant and the public's demand far greater, one must spend as much time staring at a computer as a side-imager. The time that remains often limits trips to just a few hours.
It kind of works out, however, as, in my part of the world, the fishing is greatly condensed. Many of the northern states’ bass seasons are still closed, others offering catch-and-release only. The Ontario season doesn’t arrive until late June, and by October the weather’s lousy, so all of the major tournaments around here must occur in about a 3-month period encompassing the middle of summer.
The national triple-A trails lead us out a little early, labeling a few mid-south stops as part of their “Northern” tours, so things will get underway for me early next month at the Rayovac event on the James River in Virginia.
Believe it or not, with only a week or so left before the event, I still haven’t seen my boat or entered the tournament. I guess you could say my planning was a bit behind this year.
Regardless, I decided I’d better take a break from the office and head to the garage, a place I once spent hundreds of hours in the past, tinkering with tackle and watching Bassmaster re-runs. Just like then, I fired up the ol’ VHS (yes, I refuse to surrender my VHS unit dedicated to this very purpose), and watched the 1988 Classic on the James.
Though fishing is vastly different now and little or no productive tournament insight could be gained from careful viewing of the event, it still allowed me to temporarily drift away to that magic time when nothing mattered to me quite like the Bassmaster Classic. The host city of Richmond, from what I remembered, was one of the most fanatical venues in all of pro fishing.
Coming back to reality, I couldn't help but reflect on the top finishers of the event, and where they were today. Sure, a few “blasts form the past” were among the leaders: guys like Ken Cook, George Cochran and Bo Dowden, but several of today’s competitors were also right there in the mix, including winner Guido Hibdon and 4th-place finisher Paul Elias.
The show highlighted Elias using his “new” kneel and reel technique, adorned in his vintage Cajun Boats shirt. Later, we get an inside glimpse of Guido and Dion’s life on tour, see footage of their custom double-decker boat trailer, and learn that Dion is the youngest man to ever qualify for the Classic at the time.
What really blew me away, however, was realizing that this was one of the first B.A.S.S. events that showcased the talents of Mark Davis. Think about that for a moment. Mark Davis, who’s running away with the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year award this season, was right in the mix over 25 years ago. Oh, and did I mention he raked up over $300,000 briefly fishing FLW in between?
These stats completely mesmerized me as I cracked the lid on my first tub filled with soft-plastics and began to get organized. I’m somewhat obsessed with neatness and order in all aspects of my life, so tackle care sometimes literally overwhelms me.
I reflected back how I couldn’t imagine all the tackle a guy like Mark Davis must have accumulated over those years. With all of the “crazes” in bass fishing, every season must bring mandatory purchases of thousands of dollars of gear for touring pros. The shaky-head craze, the swimbait craze, the ChatterBait craze. Switching lead to tungsten, flipping Beavers, floating frogs, Horny Toads. Hand-carved crankbaits, flat-sided crankbaits, coffin-bill crankbaits, square-bill crankbaits, super-deep-diving crankbaits. All new, true-suspending, cast-friendly Japanese jerkbaits. Bubblegum worms, ringworms, Roboworms.
Such a list is truly endless. A tour angler, who must stay on top of such innovations for competitive advantage, needs to restock each season, often spending a fortune in the process. I can only sympathize.
My needs are relatively small, but I still feel required to keep up with the trends. That, of course, led to a mega-order from Tackle Warehouse last week, which was now leading to more organization problems and frustration as I glanced toward the television and watched Davis make it look so easy a quarter century ago.
With the same set of circumstances occurring each of the last few years, I long ago made the decision to simplify things. I grew tired of getting caught up in the hype of exploring techniques I wasn’t comfortable with, and I therefore greatly reduced my tackle choices. Although I spend most of my summers with a spinning rod in hand, exploring deep rockpiles across the open waters of the Great Lakes, my passion is for heavy-handed largemouth techniques.
Competitively speaking, I’d probably be better off traveling to far way locales with the intention of utilizing finesse techniques on the same rods I use daily at home. But regardless, when packing for a “largemouth event," I’ve reduced my choices to flippin' sticks and more flippin' sticks, with a good mix of shallow cranks, bladed jigs and topwaters.
Tinkering with tackle is a passion enjoyed by nearly all of us, I would assume; it’s something in a bass fisherman’s genes. I glanced back to the show and listened in as Woo Daves made mention of the importance of a fire-tail worm. That directed my thoughts to a recent conversation with a friend who claimed an exact color of flipping bait was necessary to closely mimic the James River crabs. I packed another monster Plano full of baits I’ll probably never use, frustrated with the growing choices.
I’ve always felt it necessary to simplify things like tackle, in order to allow for more focus on the most difficult aspects of tournament fishing, such as decision-making and confidence. For every high finisher who attributes his success to a magic shade of worm, there’s inevitably a top performer who just “always throws green-pumpkin." Lately, I fall into the latter category.
A few other recent setbacks make me a little nervous for my upcoming trip. A plaguing back injury has made it difficult to drive any distance and may present a problem. Funny, though, it always seems to loosen up while fishing.
I’ll vow to ignore my email and laptop while on location, but I know that will never happen. Today, it’s impossible to truly get away from the office for just about anyone.
Back in the garage, I again reflected and sympathized for the world’s best. Their business requirements, on top of a fishing schedule taking them coast to coast, would surely overwhelm me. But a few have ridden the wave of progress, trading in their vests with patches for die-sub jerseys, their pork chunks for Rage Craws.
I’ll head to the James and notice a dock or a duckblind where someone fished (maybe Mark Davis) a quarter century ago. I’ll ponder what he threw around the pilings back then, compared to what I cast now. And I’ll continue to wonder if it even really matters.
(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.)