This weekís professional fishing tours revealed an eye-catching difference among venue choices. While the Basmaster Elites struggled to catch 12-inch keepers, the BPT Heavy Hitters were reeling in hawgs at record pace. Each tournament, however, featured intense competition and memory-making moments for the fans. Such left me wondering, which scenario is better?
Letís recheck the numbers, using Sundayís round of competition as an example. That day, the 10 finalists on the Elite Series all caught limits from the Sabine River system, weighing between about 7 and 11 pounds. By contrast, all 10 of the top BPT competitors caught at least one bass weighing around 6 pounds or more apiece, topped off by Fletcher Shyrockís 9-pound monster that anchored a 4-pound-plus average for all 14 of his bass. Heavy Hitters, indeed.
Apples and oranges, I know. But what Iím getting at here isnít so much the numbers, itís the perception of each event as a viable thing to follow and enjoy. Personally, I loved watching Jason Christie win. It validated the aspects of professional fishing that I preach here each week. Hereís a guy who made a huge career change, likely impacting every aspect of his life, and came out on top. It couldnít have been easy, though Christie always makes it look so.
But Iíd bet itís the BPT event that will buzz the longest. These three lakes in North Carolina Ė Falls, Jordan and Shearon Harris Reservoir Ė first made headlines when the BassPro Tour visited in 2019. While the waters were favorites prior with locals, it was places like Lake Fork, Toledo Bend and Guntersville that were always in the minds of fishing fans when lunker factories were discussed.
And itís important to discuss that aspect of tournament locales and chosen venues. Without question, there has been a push in recent years to include the nationís premier fisheries, and those offering the best chances at big bass, as the places to land an event. The tourism/tournament relationship is being nurtured at every stop possible.
At one time, numerous other variables played as much of a part in determining the site for a major tournament Ė maybe even more so than the fishing. Indoor arenas that could host a weigh-in factored in. Close proximities to major cities and a major fan base have been considered. Way back in the day, Las Vegas was chosen to host events simply because it was, well, Las Vegas.
Today, weíre also seeing internet connectivity and cell service taken into consideration due to the overwhelming popularity of live broadcasts. But all seem to pale in the presence of big bass, at least most of the time.
So, when an event comes down to catching five squeakers, I wonder how much that impacts the appeal to the fans?
Iíve always loved following the tough events. If anything, the nail-biters make for more intense action, as numerous competitors usually have a shot to win going into the last day. All it takes is someone from the back of the pack to make one exceptional catch, or the leader to come up just short, for everything to change at the last minute.
I think back to the Classics on the Ohio River, and reading of the early U.S. Opens in the heat summer on Lake Mead. These were true tests of the best. Not surprisingly, the winners had names like Clunn, Nixon, Cochran and VanDam; names that later became synonymous with greatness. Christie fits right in there today.
So back to our theme Ė which type of event is better?
I say the heck with endless publicity for the lunker lakes. Bring on the tough tournaments.
For one, the best fisheries in the country need no more publicity. Thereís been a major influx of anglers in our sport recently, in addition to an influx in technology, and singling out certain bodies of water makes things overwhelming. A recent visit to the Harris Chain reminded me what a hundred-boats-a-day looks like.
Thereís plenty of places with good fishing that are capable of hosting a national bass tournament. It doesnít always have to be a slugfest to interest the fans.
And, as Jason Christie again proved, the greatest anglers win the toughest tournaments. Why? Because they donít miss. They donít break off their biggest fish, or try to boat-flip a kicker, or come in late. On the contrary, the very best in the business are calculated and eliminate all variables that could lead to failure.
Now donít get me wrong, Iíve thoroughly enjoyed all the competition recently on the pro tours. The Heavy Hitters event is one I wonít likely forget for awhile, especially with the monster big-bass bounties. Unbelievably cool.
But letís not confuse that with a mandate for hawg-fests to maintain fan interest.
Because, despite the recent momentum, our game is all about the performance of the fishermen, not the fishery.
(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.)