The two old-timers were at home on the river. Time stood still that morning, as it had done countless times in the past, the only interruption being an errant cast into overhanging limbs.

“I’m snagged”, the angler told his buddy on the bow.


“Yes, again. You never get snagged?”

“Well, not like that …”

Chuckling, I drifted around the corner, out of view. I’ve always enjoyed good boat banter. My uncles on my mom’s side – all of whom fished – were masters of the practice. It was impossible to fish with them without repeatedly questioning your own ability.

There’s a skill to it; that dry humor. Southerners pull it off best because they somehow do it politely. I was never that good at it, though I’ve gotten better. Once far too serious to truly enjoy a day’s fishing, the end goal was always in sight. More. Bigger. Then more and bigger.

But I’ve traded in that thought process. Fishing, for me, is constantly evolving, and becoming less every day about catching a bunch of fish.

I find myself envying the old men in that little boat. A whole bunch more than the guy in the giant bass rig, 12 rods on the deck with the electronic force of a nuclear submarine. I don’t think I’m alone in that. In fact, I think the percentage of bass anglers who feel the way I do is now increasing.

Take into consideration the numbers. It’s estimated that there are 40 million freshwater anglers in the United States, and about 70 percent of them target bass as their primary species. Roughly, that equates to 28 million people. Sure, this includes many one-time participants, but how many of those anglers, do you suppose, own 20-foot bass boats? How many aspire to?

Less, every day. Really. While manufacturers of high-end gear are experiencing great sales, they’re only selling to a very small percentage of bass anglers. Repeatedly. And it’s a percentage that’s shrinking.

Doubt such a statement? Raise your hand if you know someone who fishes in freshwater and bought a kayak over the last three years. It’s the fastest-growing sector in fishing, by far.

Here’s another fact to consider. Ten times more people will go fishing this year (again, likely targeting bass) while on a camping trip than on a tournament-based excursion. So why is our industry so obsessed with catering to the smallest percentage of the customer base?

The answer is two-fold. First off, the bass fishing industry is now almost entirely based on a competitive model. The highest level of that competition is looked at to the be the trend-setter. Sometimes, it is. We see this frequently, where gear used by the pros trickles down through the market, creating a demand for that same equipment at other levels of fishing.

The other reason lies in the mistaken belief that the most avid bass anglers are the best consumers. The guy with the biggest boat must be the best spender, right? Not even close.

What the industry is now recognizing is that entry-level fishermen are spending the most, and fishing the most often. The numbers don’t lie. Those Americans going fishing just a few times a year, usually with a single rod and reel, and often from shore or in a paddle-craft, make up such a huge user-group that they easily outspend the guys blowing down the lake in a flashy bass rig. Easily.

Much of the bass fishing industry doesn’t know what to do. They’re trying to dip their toes into the beginners pool. We’re seeing this in some of the media out there, with product intros and the like, but they’re often laughable. A top-tier pro endorses a tackle backpack. Really? Or how about the tacklebox intended for a novice that’s stocked with 40-dollar glide baits? That makes sense.

I continue to be blown away by the industry’s apparent disregard for their best customer. You see, while the bass world is busy trying to develop new products that appeal to 10 percent of the buyers, the other 90 percent are looking for something else to do.

That’s fine with me. Selfishly, I don’t want any more bass fishermen on the lake. But it’s really a shame to waste the renewed interest we have in fishing simply by ignoring the needs of the customer. When, oh when, will the industry learn to appeal to a broader user group instead of constantly tightening its grip on the existing players?

When I look back on the evolution of bass fishing in this country, I’m always greeted by the formation of the first organized “society”, if you will. I think the primary goal, back in the early days of B.A.S.S, was to organize the growing culture into a unified body that could both propel the sport and act upon the environmental challenges it faces.

And I would have to imagine, back then, there was a broad appeal to anglers other than the tiny percentage interested in tournaments. Through time, though, we lost that focus. Correspondingly, we lost a percentage of that early group. If we don’t want to continue the downward trend, we need to appeal more to the growing base.

It’s really not that tough. The first step is to simply get down off the high horse.

(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.)