As part of my very hectic schedule, I was fortunate to be able to participate in the very first BASSFest as part of the Shimano Experience Team. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of this unique event and its bizarre format.

Even as the event unfolded, I didn’t quite understand how things were supposed to go down, and this uncertainty made me a little skeptical of the event.

Now that this special event, held on Tennessee’s Lake Chickamauga, is now in the rear-view, I truly hope that it won't be the last.

Big Picture

“If you look for an imperfection in something, you will always find it.”

That's something I've heard and read many times, and it's something that I try to remember before I pass judgment on anything. It's been a concept that's helped me see things from a different perspective and see the bigger picture.

Yes, BASSFest had the sport abuzz with skepticism about how difficult the format was to follow. Yes, BASSFest provoked some controversy amongst some Elite anglers, and others, concerning the invitations extended to Open anglers, and how it would effect the Angler of the Year points. Yes, it was different. Yes, it was new.

Now that I got to experience it first-hand and understand what it was all about, I'm all for the this festival-concept event that B.A.S.S. has created.

I think in the beginning, a lot of people were focused on the actual tournament format itself and completely forgot about what the event meant to the fans, and how it was really designed to include them in something that many times they only get to read about or see on TV.

One of the things that was special about the format, that originally I didn’t understand, was the fact that the pros who initially qualified for Saturday’s competition spent Friday at the expo with the fans. Having a few pros roaming around after cut day at Elite events is a normal occurrence, but to have 50 of the sport’s best there to interact with fishing’s loyal followers is something special that I think truly highlighted how great this format actually is.

It was a very humbling experience to see the looks on so many of the fans' faces when they got to interact with their favorite fishing idols.

Heck, I even carried a sharpie with me, since the kids were having such a great time getting their shirts and hats covered with signatures. I probably was approached over 50 times to sign something since I was wearing my Shimano jersey. Though I was quick to point out that I am not an Elite anger yet, I would never turn down a chance to make a kid happy.

Pros are a Different Breed

As I watched the many interactions between the pros and the fans, I realized that our sport is very special in that I can’t think of any other sport that is so widely beloved and participated in where a young kid, or fan of any age, can approach all of their favorite professionals, have a conversation with them, and then leave feeling as if they just spoke with a friend.

It's very impressive and heartwarming to see that our sport can remain so grounded. I think it's probably the single biggest thing that makes this sport so great – the fact that our professionals continue to be some of the most approachable and friendly athletes in the world.

To me, the importance of giving fans role models that they can relate to as human beings, who are also passionate about the outdoors, cannot be understated.

This kind of “welcoming with open arms” vibe that this sport exudes is just so cool, and it really puts things in perspective as to what's really important when it comes to putting on such an event.

Good Talk

I'm very fortunate in that I get to meet a lot of people who influence the sport and the fishing industry. Going to all these events is a great way to reconnect with these people I've become friends with.

On this occasion I was very lucky to get to spend some time with one of the people I really respect and look up to in the sport – Jerry McKinnis. We hadn’t really had the opportunity to speak in the last couple years, so it was really nice when Jerry stopped by the Shimano tent and we were able to walk away for a half-hour to catch up on things.

One of things that we talked about was how BASSFest initially was received with mixed feelings. As a competitive angler myself, I understood some of the skepticism about the event from my own competitor’s point of view.

But, as I sat there talking with one of my personal idols and watched him cheerfully meet with fan after fan who had followed his career for decades, I realized what BASSFest was all about:

The fans.

I’m a big fan of BASSFest, and I hope I get to be part of it next year from a competitor’s point of view.

(Miles "Sonar" Burghoff chronicles his quest toward becoming a tour-level angler in his Sonar Sound-Off column. To visit his website, click here. You can also visit him on Facebook and Twitter.