Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a Bassmaster Elite Angler of the Year. Finally.
After a woefully delayed postseason event on Lake Michigan that nearly ended in a debacle, Greg Hackney was rightfully crowned the overall best angler on the Bassmaster tour. As a fan, I love it. Hackney’s my kind of guy – rogue Southerner with a scratchy voice, swinger of the big stick. Pure pro bass.
He joins Andy Morgan, another one of my favorites, at the top of this year’s food chain. Truthfully, I can’t think of anyone fishing better than those two right now.
The final event of the season leading to Hackney’s triumph was not without issues, however.
First, it offered no additional prize money to the tournament’s top finishers, other than the pre-set Angler of the Year money that came as a result of everyone’s finish. Now I have to hand it to B.A.S.S. - they raised the bar several years ago by drastically increasing the Angler of the Year standings payout. That title went from “one to be proud of” to “one to be proud of and make you rich”, and rightfully so.
But when will we see an end to these points-style events, where fishermen in the middle of the pack, with virtually no chance of moving up or down in the race, must travel to a far-away locale and fish for a pat on the back? It’s absurd, and it takes away from the legitimacy of the sport.
If a tournament is to be held featuring many of the best professional anglers in the world, there should be a professional payout. I don’t see Tiger and Phil playing 18 for the fun of it, or to hash out a points race. It shouldn’t be a winner-take-all, or a winner qualifies and everyone else loses, or a point-standings event. There should always be a substantial prize to the event’s top finishers; after all, they were the best in the field that week, just like their predecessors each week prior.
Secondly, as we all are aware, the event was delayed longer than any in history due to the weather and featured 4 consecutive blow days. This brings up a discussion that may never end.
The critics will tell you that the major tours have no place holding events on the mega-fisheries of the North, where rough water, exceeding what appears to be modern B.A.S.S. safety limits, is a regular occurrence. In reality, there’s a better chance of cancellations or delays than not.
The proponents are represented by a strong contingent of tournament-backers and buying public across the region, an area with the best chance of further expansion into the bass market, as more smallmouth fisheries are being recognized for what they are: truly some of the best bass fisheries in the country.
I stand in the middle, of sorts.
While one would think my strong participation in big water events would sway my opinion, I assure you I remain impartial when I offer my opinion on this matter: If an event is scheduled for big water, it should be fished on big water, regardless of the weather.
Now I realize there are exceptions to the rule, and that certain meteorologic occurrences can cancel or delay an event just about anywhere. However, tournament officials and participants alike should be prepared for some pretty gnarly conditions when they schedule an event in a relatively small bay off of the fifth largest lake in the world.
Veterans like Clunn, Klein, Elias and Nixon will tell war stories of an era before cancellations, where bass fishermen went out and fished on the scheduled day of the event, regardless. I have a few of those stories of my own. But in today’s world of quick cancellations, B.A.S.S. competitors can almost guarantee they won’t be faced with catastrophic weather in a big-water event.
In addition, many competitors, including AOY contender Mark Davis, reported practicing specifically for windy, rough conditions, dissecting areas that offered the most protection in a potential stormy sea. My question is why even bother?
Again, I realize that sending competitors off into gale-force winds is not the right thing to do. But this event was specifically scheduled to take place in a protected bay, not the main lake. Did that area not offer enough seclusion in the event of rough weather? Did someone on the tournament committee forget to raise their hand and ask that question during the planning meeting?
To further compound the problem, B.A.S.S. scheduled the tournament as the crowning event of its season. A brief look into the schedule immediately revealed that the event with the most “non-fishing” factors potentially determining the outcome was this very same tournament. Is that any way to determine the Angler of the Year – through factors like weather, unnavigable seas or breakdowns? I surely think it’s better determined with rods and reels.
Which boils the debate down to one underlying question: Should bass tournaments even take place on these massive fisheries?
My opinion is yes. And no.
I’m a firm believer that the parent organizations of the professional bass tours (FLW and B.A.S.S.) must represent the fan and consumer base by bringing their star athletes to fisheries across the nation. What I don’t agree with, however, is any additional circumstance being placed on a venue that is more of an anomaly in the pro bass tours than the norm.
Should Lake Michigan, or other mega-waters, be on the schedule? Sure. Should they determine Angler of the Year? No. Should tournament organizers expect calm, placid conditions when heading to these venues, or be determined to wait out any turbulent weather, at the time and expense of their underpaid athletes? Absolutely not.
One thing certainly went B.A.S.S.’s way in this scenario – the fact that very little movement occurred in the AOY race as a result of the event. Otherwise, I think a majority of those involved would have called for a recount. But make no mistake, the AOY wasn’t without a little tension. Faircloth catches the same bag on day 2 as day 1, and he’s right there, tied for the title.
What if? Should the entire season for these competitors be determined by a two-day shootout up north?
My vote is to continue to have events across the nation. Just be prepared to fish on the tournament days.
And continue to pursue the “post-season” drama, thus adding to the legitimacy of the sport’s most underrated title. But don’t do so at the expense of the pros.
Their year’s been long enough.
(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.)