ďPeople think itís a young guy tournament trail, and yeah, the young guys have killed it. But I donít feel old and I donít act old Ö I know that I still have the drive to win in me as much as I ever had.Ē
Ė Skeet Reese
What great weekend for us bass geeks. Two major tours kicked off their seasons with events in Florida, bringing us hours of coverage of the some of the worldís best bass anglers. Choosing which to watch was tough. I gotta say, I went bananas when Greg Hackney hit his groove on the third day of B.A.S.S. competition. I decided right then and there nothing could get better for my weekend.
Until Skeet Reese showed up on the other channel.
By now, BassFans are well aware of Reeseís super-human bladed-jig beatdown on Sunday morningís MLF broadcast. He came, he saw, he pushed the rest of the field out of the way. By 10 a.m., my life was complete.
Then, Chris Lane picked up a worm rod.
The resulting 9-pound kicker will be on the Okeechobee highlight reels for years. That single fish will, literally, keep anglers casting til dark and send the petal to the metal for the next group of snowbirds hightailing down I-95.
All of these scenarios had one major thing in common: They showed off the talents of the hammers. God, I love that!
To me, thereís no better validation in professional fishing than when the household names take down titles. Now, I know the sport needs new guys. I realize the media loves it when a 20-something solidifies himself as the next up-and-comer. But to me, thereís simply nothing better than watching a Reese or Hackney get in his groove.
Their whole demeanor is different. In their competitors, we sense a feeling of urgency. We learn the gameplay of staying the course, just trying to survive another day. ďIím gonna ride it out in this spot,Ē they say.
But you donít hear that from a Reese or a Hackney or Lane. You donít see them get all excited to catch their fifth 2-pounder of the day. Those guys donít come to Florida to catch 2-pounders.
The instant the cameras went to Reese, I saw it. Up on the front deck, chewing gum and winding away. Vintage Skeet. Itís something I always recognized with coverage of KVD a few years back. Itís that general persona that gives the viewer a feeling that these guys are there to win. Thereís absolutely no sense of doubt. The guesswork is over. While the rest of the competitors are simply trying to survive doing whatís gotten them this far, the big names Ė the hammers Ė get out of bed in the morning with plans to take your money.
Iíve said it over and over in this forum; modern bass tournaments are never won by someone just trying to survive. Nope. In this day and age, competitors must continuously change as the fish do. They must recognize emerging patterns before the rest of the anglers and take advantage of the situation.
By the nature of the game and the difficulty in making it as a pro, the anglers who switch it up are those with nothing to lose in terms of credibility or performance. The hammers.
Sure, these guys would like to win as much as the newcomers. But theyíre not going to play conservative with knots in their stomach, just hoping to come away with a decent finish. Itís go big or go home and, with a bunch of superstars playing the game on both tours, one of them is going to routinely hit the ball out of the park.
Which, as roundabout as it may have come, presents a discussion for the week.
Going into the season openers, I was undecided on my views of BPT anglers fishing the MLF Pro Circuit. I mentioned I love watching those guys perform, but I felt the Pro Circuit should be reserved as a feeder tour for the BPT, with no competition from the BPT anglers. Iím sure a number of tour-level anglers agree with my feelings.
But Iím here to say, Iíve changed my mind. Or, Skeet Reese changed my mind.
There is just something undoubtedly cool about seeing the BPT anglers in this field. Watching as they give up their perceived obsession with the catch-weigh-release format, the ScoreTracker factor and the fewer lines in the water freedom weíve heard all about. Itís vintage pro bass to learn that all of those things can be tossed aside for the simple pursuit of fishing for dollars. Itís Hammer Time, if you will.
Which presents another argument. I previously believed that having the BPT anglers in the Pro Circuit field would reduce their appeal as true professionals. I mean, that was the intension of MLF forming these leagues and differentiations, right? I assumed one of the major marketing aspects of that was to give fans the feeling that the BPT was the true pro tour of their side of the sport, and the Pro Circuit was more triple-A. That's fine, but when you let the pros in to play in the minors, it throws everything off, right?
Maybe not. Again, as I watched Lane and Reese make mincemeat out of the competition, it dawned on me what a neat fan treat that was. Sure, I enjoy watching the best on the Pro Circuit compete, but thereís another level of fan following when a few big names are in the mix. Itís like watching your home teamís best linebacker play in the Pro Bowl. He comes with a following, and heís coming for the quarterback.
Now, if I have to be critical of one aspect of the MLF format, itís the qualification of a handful of Pro Circuit players to various stages of the BPT, based on their performance in Pro Circuit events. Iím afraid this is simply another example of the MLF team making things a bit too complicated. Letís stick to a clear qualification process and cut-and-dry schedules. I donít want to have to write things down in order to follow my sport.
In any case, my hatís off to the Skeets and Hackneys and Lanes and all the guys who keep proving thereís no replacing old-school. I canít wait to see more.
(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.)