Baseball bats. Hockey sticks. Tennis rackets. Golf clubs.
All are used in professional sports, and all are regulated to exact specifications within those arenas. A few slight modifications have occurred over time, but not without strict compliance to a set of guidelines. And concerning most equipment regulations, professional bass fishing has followed suit of such scrupulous behavior.
However, some feel the Bassmaster tournament trail let tradition be damned by changing one of the most important equipment regulations of all.
Permitted rod lengths for tournaments will increase from 8 to 10 feet; with such will come sweeping changes to the industry. This will certainly increase sales for many fishing rod manufacturers, however such changes may not be embraced as everyone assumes, and for good reason.
As you’ll see momentarily, rocking the boat in such a manner may further push us over the top concerning man’s advantages over fish. Such is a theme that has been closely monitored by many in the industry over time, with things like underwater cameras, Side Imaging depthfinders and umbrella rigs all finding themselves in the spotlight when fishermen discuss exactly what’s fair.
But before we go any further, it’s important to note that my argument comes with an asterisk.
You see, the FLW Tour has NO limit on rod length. However, this isn’t a new rule to follow a trend, as I assumed. Nope, this week found me in utter shock when I learned that FLW has not had a rod length limit rule in several years.
Just to clear the air, I immediately polled a half dozen of FLW’s most prominent fishermen and found that none of them - not a single one - was aware of this loophole in the rules.
So why all the concern?
To understand the direction things may go in the future, it’s important to learn about the past:
In the mid-1970s, bass fishing was experiencing a major expansion as tournaments had taken hold of the country, and fishermen from coast to coast were interested in competing for cash. With such regional expansion came vast technique advancements that fit the country’s diverse waterways. In the West, top tournament anglers, most notably led by Dee Thomas, were refining a way to catch bass in shallow, thick cover in ways similar to cane-pole fishing for panfish.
By using ultra-long “poles," presentations could be incredibly fast and accurate, leading to more bass coming over the gunnels. When applied to the day’s "draw-style" tournaments, in which two pro anglers were often paired together, the guy with the long stick could beat the tar out of his counterpart simply through efficiency.
Thus, arguments today exist that disallowing a similar approach to tournament bass fishing is no longer relevant, since virtually no large tournaments pair two pro anglers together.
However, it’s important to point out: Originally banning the extra-long rods used for flipping had less to do with head-to-head competitive advantage and more to do with overall regulation of the sport, to allow the playing field to be fair for everyone involved.
For the same reasons, other aspects of bass fishing have been banned from tournament fishing. Earlier, bass fishing had experienced a similar revolution, as anglers discovered offshore fishing. Many followed the principles enacted by Buck Perry, who utilized trolling to tap into previously undiscovered monster schools of bass. Trolling, however, was quickly banned from pro bass tournaments in order to level the playing field.
Fishing with live bait was previously banned from competition, partly for the same reason. Today, we see regulations against “strolling," where the boat pulls the bait, and umbrella rigs that present just too many lures. In fact, the very aspect of the construction of spinnerbaits and buzzbaits is precisely spelled out in the B.A.S.S. rules to prevent any type of multi-lure device from being used.
This, again, is done not for purposes of head-to-head advantage, but to equalize the field.
Applying to rod length, it’s important to think how such will affect the sport. Immediately, I guarantee that the sport’s top crankers and offshore specialists are looking into long rods. Such can lead to drastically longer casts, larger, deeper-diving baits, and more control of bass in a fight. Imagine Kevin VanDam with a 10-foot cranking rod.
Swimbait specialists will follow suit, as will monster-spoon tossers.
Next, we’re likely to see flippers experiment with longer rods – notably those fishing matted vegetation, where an increase in rod length yields a superior line angle. And, quite possibly, we will see anglers experiment with monster poles on the FLW Tour, just like in the Dee Thomas era. With the advancements in modern rods – like those in the surf-casting and muskie arenas, where giant sticks are already in circulation – the thought of 14-foot flipping rods is not out of the question. How would that change dock fishing, for example?
Finally, being the conspiracy theorist that I am, I see this move somewhat as a ploy by the country’s most visible tournament trail to direct sales – no different than changing horsepower regulations on boats. With big rods will come the needs for higher capacity reels, larger rod lockers and a list of other accessories.
I realize that’s not all that bad; I like seeing everyone involved make money. But I’m very aware of the pressure placed on anglers to keep up with trends in order to remain competitive. From monster motors to $10,000 electronics packages, anglers at all levels feel the need to invest far more than they should to stay in the hunt.
Recently, we’ve seen successful pros buck this trend, relying more on skill than expensive gear. Giant rods, however, will not allow for such a choice.
(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.)