With my wife out of town for the weekend, I had a little me-time to divide between fishing and yard work, settling in each evening to watch the tube. Election ads made any regular programming impossible to sit through, so I figured it would be a good time to get caught up on a few fishing shows.
I have to admit, with most of the hardcore bass action now live-streamed, itís rare that I go old-school and watch standard programming. And after taking the time to really see whatís out there, I was left discouraged and a bit confused. I doubt Iím alone.
Now, before we go further, please know that Iím going to generalize here, so donít get your undies in a bunch. This is not meant to be a tear-down of every fishing show in America; on the contrary, thereís still a few winners around. Hank Parkerís program, for example, routinely reminds me what I love about the sport. Getting through many others, however, is like a trek through the Sahara.
The general model is this: An angler or celebrity puts together a fishing show for the primary purpose of promoting advertisers and sponsors. They do this through the story of a fishing day and toss in a bunch of plugs for products that support the show. We are supposed to sit through this and focus on the fishing, which is nearly impossible, and understand that this type of programming model is necessary to bring us fishing on TV.
And, you see, itís that model, and the strict script required to play along, that ultimately ruins the show.
Conversely, letís take at the saltwater fishing shows. Sure, many fit into this same mold with just a change-up of the fish species. But some are moving away from the sales-pitch theme and gaining steam. It may surprise you to know that others did it long ago.
Do you remember "The Walkerís Cay Chronicles?" Partly the brainchild of angling legend Flip Pallot, Walkerís Cay was unlike any television fishing show of the time, and really unlike any since. Shot on film with high cinematic value, The Walkerís Cay Chronicles told the story of angling adventure each week for 30 minutes. There were no sponsor plugs, no commercialization of techniques and no celebrity guests. As Pallot once put it, ďIf you wanted to know what kind of reel was being used, you had to stop the VCR and rewind the show.Ē
Compare that to watch weíre watching today.
The Walkerís Cay Chronicles aired for 14 years, spawning similar shows in its wake. Even today, the show is often referred to as an example of the best in outdoor programming. The influence instilled in fans was monumental.
ďWeíd watch the show in college and we couldnít wait for spring break so we could go do the stuff we saw on television,Ē recalled Yeti Coolers founder Ryan Seiders in an interview with Garden & Gun. Through the years, The Walkerís Cay Chronicles would give a monumental rise to the saltwater fly-fishing movement and help create the mega-industry we see today. All with no sponsor plugs, no boat wraps and no hokey guests.
Today, I believe we still see influence from this incredible television show. Numerous groups are producing traditional length models, as well as short films, that highlight the saltwater lifestyle and the adventure behind pursuing big fish. A few key on the fish themselves (check for the Migration series by AFTO Films, with its incredible underwater videography), and yes, they are sponsored and supported by fishing product manufacturers. But much of the influence stops there.
Now this is a very delicate subject and one that has those involved in television production probably a bit rattled. Iím sure the job canít be easy. But I wonder if itís possible to move more toward this mold in freshwater fishing television, most namely the bass market? Because, it appears, weíre continuing down a path in the other direction, building our campy stereotype along the way.
So what would be wrong with trying something new? Stick with me here for a minute. What would it hurt to concentrate on the cinematic and story-telling value of bass fishing, above and beyond the fishing itself?
Iíve got a buddy who once accessed a lake in Central Florida with no roads leading in. He did so by hitching a ride on an airboat through the woods. The driver and his buddies had navigated the route with blood, sweat and Google Earth, braving the Florida swamps, cottonmouth snakes and mosquitos so thick it was hard to breath. Upon finding the mysterious pond, the adventurers were rewarded with two bass over 11 pounds caught off the bank on giant live bullfrogs.
Would you watch that on television? Or would you rather learn more about the Rage Tail?
You see where Iím going with this. Now, to be fair, television today is far different than it was during the Walkerís Cay run. Just to get a show on the air costs hundreds of thousands of dollars; money that must be accounted for somehow. Unfortunately for us, those dollars usually come with sponsor plugs throughout the program. So we trudge along, lightly paying attention to a couple guys out fishing and supposedly having conversations about how important the graphite make-up of their rods are.
Thankfully, we have more programming options now than ever. Streaming services offer some decent programs with great diversity, and of course thereís YouTube. But even thatís becoming a bit cloudy now that many contributors are on the payroll.
For a while now, Iíve wondered why we canít find a true bass adventure show, free of the advertising and industry influence thatís been the black eye for so long. I donít know, maybe itís impossible.
But I canít be alone in my thinking. And, I wonder, does someone with the right position Ė the right marketing budget and the right mindset Ė share my views?
(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.)