If this were a movie, youíd say they planned it all along. Modern-day cinema is so full of twists and turns that, as soon as you figure out who done it, the entire plot changes. But could a couple of bass fishermen be as smart as Spielberg?
If you havenít guessed, Iím talking about Gerald Swindle and Brandon Palaniuk, of course. Last week, the dazzling duo announced that each is ďreturning to their roots," opting out of the trendy new Bass Pro Tour and coming back to the B.A.S.S. Elite Series, based on the ďLegends Exemption.Ē
Each is a former Angler of the Year (Swindle twice), easily qualifying them to fish whatever tour they want, in my opinion. Given the need to do so, however, Iím sure B.A.S.S. would have figured out a way to get both back based on sheer popularity. Counting on one hand the favorite sons of Bassmaster, each of these guys takes up a finger.
In any case, their timing couldnít be better. Last season, we all watched as B.A.S.S. threw the bulk of their media efforts at the few remaining anglers with a rťsumť, Feider, Zaldain, Lowen and Combs immediately coming to mind. Such will likely pale in comparison to the press generated for these returning superstars.
So, I wonder, was it their plan all along? Leave the accomplished, publicized platform and go underground, only to return to the mainstream a year later and steal the spotlight?
Are Swindle and Palaniuk deserters of the revolution, or smarter than the rest?
Now, in reality, I stand by my previous opinion that a large percentage of anglers leaving B.A.S.S. to join the BPT did so based on peer pressure. Crazy, I know, but it defines the phrase. There were simply too many anglers who ignored the advice of sane people and chose a path that was certain to be a bad business decision for them. Palaniuk certainly fits that mold, as does Swindle, provided heís not too old to give a damn.
By this, I mean that each angler previously received tremendous exposure and notoriety, regardless of their performance. Both Swindle and Palaniuk had, based on both their fishing record and likeability, incredibly secure careers ahead of them with B.A.S.S.. The deck was stacked in their favor Ė even more so Ė when the vast majority of high-performing anglers left for the BPT.
And these two followed them out the door?
Now, in any case, the vast majority of conversations among bass nuts is whether the BPT will be worth the monumental career change presented to most of its supporters. So far, it appears things are on schedule, and a number of anglers came away with a pocketful of cash following season 1.
But many came away with very little.
In terms of media exposure, Iíve been somewhat surprised by how little Iím seeing from once-household names. Perhaps the wheels are still gaining momentum, and thatís to be expected (Iím still baffled by how much Major League Fishing has accomplished in such short order), but I wonder how long this may take.
What I mean is, I once couldnít get away from certain celebrity pros Ė they were everywhere. Magazine ads, merchandise catalogs, even billboards. Nowadays, I just donít hear much out of many millionaire anglers.
Maybe itís my media preference; Iím not glued to Instagram and YouTube, and find less time for fishing television. But Iím certain Iím not alone. Many of my friends and cohorts confirm a smaller serving of KVD and company in their daily rations.
As a fan and industry insider, Iíve confirmed that a great deal of professional fishing media attention is driven by the Bassmaster crew, as doted by a lack of press for those outside the family. MLF is combatting that with higher levels of television programming and the purchase of the FLW media superpower. Such will take a little while to trickle down, but may prove to be exactly whatís needed to regain control.
Two of the key players, however, have given up the ship. Despite a signed contract and apparent unity among their peers, Swindle and Palaniuk tucked their tails between their legs and went back to the employer they quit less than a year ago. Ah, but a workplace with less competition, no doubt.
In any case, it takes a lot of humility to do so, especially in a group as tight as pro bass. In the long run, I think each will find this was a good move, and will be recognized by their sponsors. Swindle and Palaniukís switch couldnít have been easy, and illustrates the result of a growing, ever-changing industry and its impact on the players.
Or was it their plan all along?
(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.)