Iíve never really stuck to a New Yearís resolution. Whether itís a few less beers or a few more laps on the track, like most of America, my drive seems to lessen by February. But this year will be different.
I plan to get better organized; everything from e-mails to tax files, hard drives to JPEGs. Beginning recently, I started with my archaic filing cabinet, opened sporadically in todayís modern age.
A file labeled ďtournament locations and notesĒ contained comical contents. Hand-written entries mingled with newspaper clippings, detailing major tournament results in the early '90s. A rough sketch outlined the location of a magic stump submerged in Kentucky Lake, another a rock reef on Erieís floor.
Back in the day, I would save everything I could find that might give me an upper hand in a tournament. Most often, clippings were torn from the pages of BassMaster or B.A.S.S. Times, while notes were scrawled at a sport show seminar. Like a lot of us, I long ago quit collecting these items, even when I ran across a gem, knowing that I could now likely find them online.
The information age is everywhere, even in bass fishing. But todayís information is much different than it was just a few short years ago.
I recently appeared on Ike Live Ė Mike Iaconelliís online program Ė but quickly turned from contributor to fascinated fan when Kevin Short started talking shallow cranking. Last week found me filling in as a speaker at BassMaster University, but I also attended as a student, learning jerkbait tips from Ott Defoe. And I see here that Pro Web Live is again expanding itís seminar reach, offering detailed tutorials on specific bodies of water by each areaís best fishermen.
Not only is the amount of information available to bass anglers far greater than it previously was, the value of such information is light years ahead. The reason for this is fairly straightforward: Many hard-core participants of the sport recognized a failure by the media to provide the type of content they desired, so they began providing their own.
All of these information outlets are owned or operated by professional fishermen. Another, the increasingly popular Bass Quest Magazine, has asked me to come on board and pen a few columns this year. I couldnít be happier to do so Ė a quick review of that publication shows itís certainly one of the coolest around, and again, itís operated by top pros.
But the information highway doesnít end there. Mega-retailer Tackle Warehouse offers videos for tons of products. YouTube is always loaded, and a bunch of manufacturers are expanding the video reach of their websites to include pro-staff contributions.
In contrast, I vividly remember feeling like Indiana Jones after purchasing a special lake map of Buggs Island decades ago. It featured hand-markings of underwater structure; Iíd hide the booklet under the driverís seat of my truck when not in use. Today, I can likely find this same information for free in about 10 minutes online, as can everyone else in the world.
So is this super-information catching on, and how is it affecting bass fishing, specifically in the tournament environment?
If youíre like me, you use it as a resource, no different than cookbooks or home-improvement manuals. Why take the time to figure out the best hook for flipping hyacinth mats when top pros have already done so? And when researching a body of water, I immediately get all past tournament history, often complete with detailed write-ups of patterns or accompanying video, and begin at the top. No more cutting news clippings and hoping the writer didnít leave out vital details like winning lures.
Such information availability is certainly increasing the overall knowledge base of anglers. We hear all the time from tour guys that competition is far superior today than it was just a short time ago. While Iím not sure thatís entirely true Ė I feel it may just seem that way Ė without question most anglers are much more advanced in their techniques.
What this may lead to are fish that are more difficult to catch. Iíve seen it first-hand in my part of the world. Years ago, when anglers first ventured north to the fabled smallmouth waters, they did so without the local knowledge of proven areas and techniques, and floated haphazardly hoping for a bite. Good fishing remained good for the locals.
But today, on Lake St. Clair for example, Iíve noticed fish that are often dramatically more difficult to catch than just a couple years ago, thanks, in part, to visiting anglers being better anglers. This phenomena is, without question, a result of those anglers getting better information prior to making their first cast.
Will we someday take it too far? I say no, for one primary reason: We are reaching a point where we canít take in any more data.
While the human brain is capable of storing vastly more than we use it for, most of America is now simply too busy to gather all the bass fishing tips available to them. Weíre busy with jobs, with kids, with spouses, and with education. And weíre busier more than ever, because each of these variables in life are, too, experiencing information overload.
Iíd love to learn every detail on how to fish big swimbaits and watch countless videos by West Coast gurus who know the differences in flexibility between dozens of different soft-plastic materials. But I simply donít have time.
However, I think the information mega-load will, in fact, become a factor in one way: It will become harder for the sportís best to repeatedly win. While the VanDams and Christies of the world will certainly continue to steal headlines, I think each individual event will start to be dominated by an angler who is intimately knowledgeable with each venue or its trademark technique due, in part, to massive information gathering.
Perhaps it wonít be unlike the once debated pre-fish topic, where top anglers would spend a month on a lake prior to events. Maybe, in the future, weíll see the same dedication for home computer research pay off in big dividends.
Perhaps a time will come when the truly gifted will be out-fished by the nerds. Iím not sure, but it will be interesting to keep an eye on. In part, Iím glad Iím neither.
(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.)