Despite the incredible emotional roller-coaster ride that comes with being a professional angler, those of us who've been able to stay in the sport and make a living at it are indeed most fortunate. After all, being able to pay the bills doing something you love is a true gift.
I'm thankful for being in that group for nearly 25 years, and as such, I'm pretty protective about our sport, the environment we use as our playing field and the image and legacy professional fishing projects. That being said, I'd like to address one of the biggest threats to the legitimacy of professional angling the umbrella rig.
In my opinion, there are three things that have and continue to undermine the credibility, stature and image of our sport:
1. Pros being allowed to solicit local information, even months before a cutoff. We are supposed to be pros, and this act undermines that title and our credibility.
2. Bed-fishing, which is degrading for the image of our sport in the public eye and harmful to the bass.
3. The umbrella rig.
These three issues bring nothing positive to our sport from a competitive and image standpoint, and they ultimately harm it's public perception.
Allowing pros to obtain local information at any time and bed-fishing are topics for another time. Today I'd like to talk about the umbrella rig.
Do I love to fish the umbrella rig? Yes. I've caught hundreds of bass on it over the past year and a half.
Does it have a place in competitive fishing? Absolutely not!
I applaud B.A.S.S. for banning the rig on the Elite Series right off the bat. It's obvious Jerry McKinnis had the vision to recognize the negative effect it can and is having on our sport.
The umbrella rig is a non-issue to the Elite Series pros. They can use their hard-earned diversity of talent and techniques at will, those that define their own unique styles as pros. The true, raw talent they have as professionals is allowed to come out.
For FLW pros not so much. Talk to most any FLW pro, and with only a few exceptions, they cuss the umbrella rig incessantly and fish it only grudgingly because they have to in order to compete.
Prior to last year, FLW pros would pack their tackle for an eventbbased upon the lake, conditions and seasonal patterns. We would use the variety of techniques we developed over years of hard work, expand our patterns and modify those approaches with a diversity of baits to match the changing and developing conditions.
Locating and catching bass became our "art" form a finely honed process. Now, when everyone heads to an event, the question on their mind is, "How much time do I have to spend throwing that stupid thing?"
Most pros feel if they don't keep throwing it even if it's not working they will get beat by someone who does.
From a rules standpoint, it's a gray area. Most tournament circuits state an angler can only use "one bait and one rod" at a time. I'm seeing five to 10 baits on umbrella rigs now.
Tournament rules are funny things. Back in the day, Gary Klein and myself teamed up at times and we were known for coming up with creative ways give us an advantage over our competitors.
> We would take extra safety-approved gas cans in our boats to increase our range now against the rules.
> We would find ways of pulling our boats over shallow water to access hard-to reach areas .. now against the rules.
> We would get a jetboat to access hard to reach areas ... now against the rules.
> We would plant brush to attract more bass ... now against the rules.
These actions Gary and I employed required detailed planning, hard work and determination, and weekend anglers admired this work ethic and creativity. Yet our methods were outlawed as the result of our success.
Our actions were banned, yet the infamous, unfair Umbrella rig lives on in competition today.
It lives on despite the devastating effect it has had on the tackle industry. Sales of conventional lures are way down, and I've talked to many tackle stores where the management said archery and clothes sales are the only things that saved them since the umbrella rig came along.
Pros are slowly loosing their hard-earned respect as innovators and leaders because the Umbrella rig has and is "dumbing down" the sport. After all, who can't get out on a main lake or secondary point and chunk and wind that thing back in, catching big bass in the process?
I like to compare the umbrella rig to steroid use in baseball. Sure, we all enjoyed watching Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds hit a ball 700 feet back in the '90s. But was it right? No different with the umbrella rig, as it creates an unfair and unsporting technique under competition.
The umbrella rig's rightful place is for fun-fishing and fun-fishing only. It's great for that, and will still keep anglers wanting to experience that unique bite.
However, it has no place in competitive fishing. No place in the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bassmaster Opens, Bassmaster Weekend Series, BFLs, FLW Tour or EverStarts.
I encourage FLW to do the right thing for the image and future of our sport and ban the Umbrella rig from its competitive events. Anything else is disrespectful to the hard work and commitment to the professional anglers who have worked diligently to hone their craft and serve as mentors to those wanting to grow their skill levels.