This week, Elite Series competitors take on the St Lawrence River, one of the nationís first popular northern bass fisheries and site of countless memory-making events. Numerous times the St. Lawrence, and adjacent Lake Ontario, have been the site where itís all went down. I remember when Rick Clunn won an event there using the little-known tactic of waking spinnerbaits. Whether he realized it or not, he helped propel a popular tactic across much of the Great Lakes region.
In recent times, big news on the fishery was of Brandon Palaniukís unheard-of voyage of hundreds of miles to reach untapped fish. Like it or not, it was sure the topic of conversation.
All of that will change this time around, however, as B.A.S.S. tournament officials have placed a boundary on fishable waters. In essence, a line was drawn that prohibits competitors from entering the open waters of Lake Ontario.
I quizzed B.A.S.S. as to the reasoning for this, and the organization conveyed the message that the decision was made based on the desires of the tournamentís host, the city of Waddington, N.Y.
Finally, someone is paying attention.
As many of you know, I have preached the idea of tournament boundaries in this column for quite some time. As Iíve stated before, in the case of massive venues, I feel tournament waters may very well need to be restricted for three very specific reasons: safety, expense and reality. Letís look at all three.
1. Safety Ė Despite their continued ďneed for speed,Ē tournament bass fishermen are, by most standards, a pretty responsible and conservative group of people. The major tournament trails can thank their lucky stars that this is the case. In my opinion, it has been nothing other than a direct act of God that no tournament fishermen have been ďlost at seaĒ in recent times during national events held on the Great Lakes, or on venues where competitors often run through massive bodies of water like the Gulf of Mexico to reach their fishing location. Just what do the major tournament organizations think they are going to do when the Coast Guard notifies them that the last known whereabouts of a competitor was 100 miles away from weigh-in, in the middle of a lake 300 miles wide? At least a boundary would narrow down the search efforts.
2. Expense Ė Professional, modern-day tournament fishing is out of control. Boat costs, fuel costs, motor expenses, tackle; all of it continues to push the envelope toward what many predict will be an all-out, catastrophic ending to the industry. Look around; the rest of the world is adjusting away from the excessive, reckless mindset of the early 2000s. Housing costs have adjusted. Consumer credit is much more difficult to obtain. Banks have certainly learned their lessons; the bass fishing industry hasnít. Nothing irritates me more, as a competitor, than to go to a venue where I know that, in order to remain competitive, Iíve got to burn 50 gallons of gas every day in my boat. Itís absurd.
3. Reality Ė Face it, it does little good for a city to host a major bass tournament if none of the competitors fish even remotely close by. Such is the reasoning used by Waddington. Sure, competitors will stay at nearby motels and eat in the local restaurants, at least during the event itself, but little publicity is given to the host city as a major fishing destination if every bass fisherman in America knows top stringers come from a different area code. The recent event at the Sacramento River was a case in point, in which the vast majority of competitors ran long distances away from the host city to fish. Following such an occurrence, the host receives little or no positive exposure, no visiting anglers, and few tourist dollars as a result. What, then, did that host spend its money on?
While some of you may believe Iím off base, I frequently receive supportive feedback for my thoughts on boundaries. Sometimes, as tournament bass fishermen, itís tough for us to think outside the box and view the sport with the rational mindset of the general public. Somewhere, likely in a meeting, someone from Waddington did just that.
I, for one, am glad they did, and hope others follow suit.
(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.)