I remember one of the driving forces behind my desire to begin this blog. After a week or so of reading all about the top-producing patterns at this year's Bassmaster Classic, I had settled in to watch the action on ESPN2 a few weeks following the event.
I’ve long been a fan of the television production that seems reserved for B.A.S.S.’s crowning event (I’ll never forget Rick Clunn's 10-pounder at Toho), and I was anxious to see how things progressed for 2013. In addition, nowhere is the David vs. Goliath mentality more played out between the rookies and the dream-crushing monster Kevin VanDam than on fishing’s biggest stage.
Being an active student on the mental side of this game, I’m always curious to see how KVD can possibly continue to perform under such scrutiny and pressure, all the while throwing in a quick crankbait lesson while on camera. He never ceases to amaze me.
Having read and re-read all of the news of the top performers’ secrets prior to the broadcast, I was especially anxious to see how Mike Iaconelli put things together to, once again, finish near the top. Love him, hate him, or just disregard him, I’m going to tell you one thing: Iaconelli is one of the best tournament bass fishermen of the last decade.
Since his Classic win in 2003, Iaconelli’s amassed an additional 5 Top-10 finishes in our version of the Super Bowl. Like many competitors this year, his reported pattern centered around jerkbait and crankbait fishing, and I was anxious to see just how he worked and modified the baits that he reported using. The story unfolded on film as he jerked up another good fish, and swung it over the side.
“Funny,” I thought, “that doesn’t look like a Husky Jerk.”
The point I’m trying to make is this: In the world of professional bass fishing, there seems to be two common themes lately when it comes to crediting winning lures and equipment.
First and foremost, we’re noticing that all the equipment seems to conveniently fit into one brand of products. As a fictitious example, a guy wins a tournament and reports catching all of his fish on a shaky-head with a Berkley worm, flipping three different Berkley plastics, and fishing a Berkley Swimbait, all tied to Trilene line and fished on an Abu Garcia rod and reel.
Could this really be the case? Maybe, but in rare instances. If you believe that the top-tier fishermen only fish the baits manufactured by their sponsors in tournaments, I’ve got some property to sell you.
Here’s the truth: These guys fish for hundreds of thousands of dollars on a weekly basis, and they will do anything in their power to give themselves the best chance to catch more fish. They’d be fools not to.
Today, there are more good products across the board in multiple brands and so many of the top pros have a pretty strong arsenal provided to them, but if the bite is on with a lure that their supporters don’t produce, competitors must change in order to compete.
For example, in the early days of the Sweet Beaver, everybody flipped a Beaver, no matter what they reported. Another example may be the venerable Zoom Speed craw or Trick Worm, maybe the Brian’s Bees’ prop bait, or lately Keitech swimbaits and Megabass jerkbaits.
Sure, there are other similar options out there, but you better believe that a lot of these lures are flying through the air each year on Tour, regardless of the logos on the jersey of the guy flinging ‘em. Yet, when I read details of the winning patterns, I often have to check the top of the magazine page to see if the word “advertorial” is up there.
The other side of the coin is the “unnamed equipment” pro. Whenever I think of this, I think of Steve Kennedy. The media reports he “fished out of an unnamed boat powered by an unnamed motor, casting an unnamed bait with unnamed hook and sinker, on unnamed line, with a Kistler rod and unnamed reel."
I mean, at this point, what are we learning from that? I understand his direction, though, and respect him for it. From what I can see, he’d rather just fish and not worry about the whole sponsor rat race.
It wasn’t long ago that I spoke with a few individuals who film professional bass fishing. They reflected on how pros are now being forced to take it to the extreme when it comes to gaining exposure for their supporting brands. Rumors indicated that at a major event this year, a fisherman actually made a lure change in the mouth of the fish with his back to the camera, in order to get the politically-correct lure on film.
I use the word “forced” on purpose, because that is exactly what manufacturers are demanding. I have some personal experience here, as a manufacturer I worked with in the recent past actually defined in its Pro Team agreement that pros would not mention any use of competing products to the media, ever.
Such verbiage has led to more than one late night phone call prior to the final day of major events. What’s a guy to do?
Tournament success is probably the largest driver of premium tackle sales (we’re talking $30 jerkbaits here, not red-and-white bobbers) in the country. Remember the RC-1 and RC-3 crankbaits? How about Hank Parker’s Classic spinnerbait? Ever owned a Guido Bug? How many of your lures have colors with the word “sexy” in the name?
In any case, we are all gluttons when it comes to buying the products we believe the pros use to beat the competition. But what if it was all a lie?
Credibility as a source is dwindling in our world, boys and girls. At a recent press event, myself and a few other fans of fishing lore reflected on how the media doesn’t seem concerned anymore with those few individuals who proved to be bass standouts without fishing tournaments.
The names Doug Hannon and Bill Murphy came up. These guys studied and fished for giant bass for the pure passion of the sport, not for endorsements, tournament paydays or to scream on camera. They never owned a die-sublimated jersey or vinyl-wrapped Suburban. I often envy that perspective and at times, it influences my career path, as well.
Whatever happened to public credibility? Today, public envy seems to be more of the concern of those in the media’s eye.
(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.)