The Western guys call it “metering”. When I was in the game, we called it “graphing”. Evidently the kids today call it “scanning”. At least that’s what Jordan Thompkins calls it.
You’ll recognize Thompkins as the recent Toyota Series champion on the Harris Chain. Even more notable was his monster first-day bag eclipsing 30 pounds.
I wanted to learn more about this young man and where he came from; the views of the new generation always intriguing me in the world of pro bass. My interview request was easily granted: “Yeah, I will be on the water tomorrow scanning, so anytime will be great.”
Scanning. At first that threw me, but not so much as the entire protocol behind his tournament practice. It wasn’t too far in the past that bass pros insisted every second of a practice day be utilized to the fullest extent. Out before dawn, back after dark. Phones turned off. No distractions and, certainly, no interviews.
Things are different today.
As I spoke with Thompkins, he keyed me into his electronics setup. Employing six graphs, he utilizes Lowrance’s side and down scanning and 2-D sonar, Humminbird’s 360 and Garmin’s Panoptix all in the course of the day, along with two mapping softwares and Google Earth on his phone, though he plans to incorporate a tablet mount to his boat in the future.
Thompkins’ tournament schedule is maxed out in triple-A events as he considers his next move. This season, he plans to fish two full divisions of both Bassmaster Open and Big 5 Toyota Series events, bringing his total to a minimum of 12 tournaments.
In addition to the actual competition, Thompkins schedules pre-fishing days at every locale possible. When feasible, he may stay at one location for two weeks. Thompkins’ goal is to scan as much as possible and learn every underwater feature of every lake he competes on. “I will blow five or six days just scanning, and only about 10 percent of what I find is any good” he shared.
But why? Is it necessary to spend that much time on a body of water in order to compete at today’s higher levels?
Every few years, we hear the discussion of how much better tournament competitors are becoming. They’re more knowledgeable about bodies of water and fishing due to the higher level of information available. These same anglers are said to be more tech-savvy due to their comfort with devices, and even more athletic with better stamina.
Contributing more so than ever are these same anglers’ commitment to finding fish strictly through the use of electronics. “When you look at tournament results,” Thompkins mentioned, “winning comes (away from) the bank.”
And, for a young man like Thompkins, the entire purpose for his fishing is to get the best shot at winning. More graphs, more views; more scans equals more chances.
Thompkins was also quick to point out that his method aims at learning now for future use. By that, he understands that at the sport’s top level, endless practice periods are no longer a reality. “I want to put time in now, for later,” he said, when discussing the condensed practice periods for Elite Series and BPT competitors.
So that’s where we’re at. Now, Thompkins may be sort of an anomaly with his dedication to competitive practice. Partly because he can be.
The son of an accomplished tournament competitor, Jordan had control of his first bass rig while still in high school. He travels and fishes with his father who, understandably, supports him in every way possible. This gives Jordan the opportunity to strictly concentrate on fishing.
Pretty nice, huh? And while many of us envious of such a situation assume Jordan Thompkins is the exception, don’t be so sure. The more interviews I do, the more I learn how so many young competitors are similar to Jordan. No marital commitments. Full support both financially and logistically from family. The use of a pro-level rig at an early age, and a seemingly unmatchable commitment toward learning everything they can about each tournament venue.
Contrast this to the stories we heard from the top pros a generation ago. Then, it was common to sleep in the truck to make ends meet and lose a marriage in the process, all the while receiving the cold shoulder back home from family embarrassed by the moniker of professional fisherman.
Today, the future is brighter for hopeful young anglers. But I wonder, how many really know what they’re up against, or desire the commitment necessary to compete at the top level? How many want to spend Easter driving, or scanning, rather than relaxing around the dinner table?
Because that’s what it takes to play at the top.
(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.)