Several years ago, I received a call from a sponsor on a Sunday. Such usually means one of two things: either you’re about to get a raise, or you’re about to get fired. In the fishing business, raises are pretty rare.
As it turned out, I was given a strong tongue-lashing for “improperly promoting” the company’s product; more specifically, the problem was due to the attention I garnered for a competitor’s lure. You see, after competing in a high-level event, I brought to attention that my success was due to two baits: one produced by the sponsor, and one not.
When I pointed that out on my Sunday call, I was told that I should have given all the credit to the sponsor plug, and never mentioned the other lure. In essence, I should have lied, and, by not doing so, my days were limited.
I remember hanging up the phone and getting the idea for this column.
The childish politics of the press, hard-sell techniques of the pros and intolerance of sponsors was clouding our sport beyond what I could handle, and I wanted to voice my opinion about it. Call me a squeaky wheel, I guess.
Anyway, fast forward about a half dozen years, and things are finally coming around; tournament-winning tactics are actually believable! Now I know I haven’t been solely responsible for this movement toward truth, but I’d like to think I was one of the early advocates toward bettering the sport for everyone involved, especially those of us who utilize the knowledge and success of the pros to improve our personal fishing.
Sure, over the course of a couple hundred columns, I’ve pointed out when a celebrity or pro fibbed a bit about his secret to success. But that’s not the point today. Instead, I’d like to give credit to a shining example of just the opposite, and a reason why we may all support the brand in question.
Bryan Thrift is the best angler in the world right now; I don’t care what anybody says. Doubt that? Okay, let’s play fantasy fishing, and I’ll pick first.
Anyway, after yet another incredible win utilizing yet another technique, Thrift immediately came clean when interviewed by FLW about his methods. He combined two swimbaits, he told reporters: a Damiki Armor Shad and a Keitech Swing Impact. In other interviews, Thrift solely credited the Damiki bait, however, the cat was already out of the bag. Later in the week, a photo gallery was released illustrating the tournament’s most productive lures, and, there was Thrift, front and center, holding a package of each lure.
Now, as many of you know, Damiki represents one of Thrift’s major sponsors; he’s used a variety of their lures to win piles of dough, and has credited them for his winning edge on numerous occasions. Keitiech, however, is in no way associated with Bryan Thrift.
Yet, despite the guarantee of gaining considerable exposure for the Keitech brand – direct competitors of Damiki – Thrift found it necessary to be transparent and give credit where it was due, right there in front of God and everybody.
What was he thinking?
I’ll tell you what he was thinking. He was thinking that, just like you, me and every other fan of the sport, he was tired of the same old protocol. When I asked him if Damiki might take things out of perspective, Thrift’s non-scripted answer was just what I had hoped.
“Nah,” he said “They’re cool. That’s one of the reasons I like working with them so much. They realize they don’t make every bait, and they can’t.”
Now, we’ve got a long way to go, I know. But let’s admit it: there’s a staple of products out there – the Keitech Swing Impact swimbait being a shining example – that just about all serious bass fishermen use from time to time, including the best pros on the tours. They’d be fools not to.
Apparently, manufacturers are recognizing this, and perhaps finally realizing that it’s better to be realistic about a consumer’s choices than to try and force products down their throats.
Personally, I couldn’t be happier. Sure, it’s important to support those that support you; in many cases, sponsors are the sole reason that pros can continue to compete during the lean years. But, as the media, or fans, or consumers, it’s our job to uncover the whole story and bring the details to light so that everyone involved can benefit.
You see, in the case of bass fishing, that’s the whole point. That’s why we watch the pros, read their thoughts, or stomach the mundane scripts of fishing TV. We want to learn what works for you, so that it may, later, work for me.
In the end, we’re all just trying to catch a few more fish.
Thanks to Bryan Thrift for lending a hand.
(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.)