As a fan of tournament bass fishing, it seems there’s always been something missing. A sport originating in Southern culture, the '80s boom of organized competition brought attention to all corners of the nation. At the time, the list of true championship tournaments included not only the Bassmaster Classic, but the Red Man All-American and the U.S. Open.

The Open was responsible for bringing the West’s biggest gunslingers to the public’s eye. Guys like Dave Gliebe, Mike Folkstead and Rich Tauber projected images of desert high-stakes players taking a shot at making it nationally. Later, names including Dobyns, Reese and Monroe would replace those originals.

Like pro hopefuls everywhere, a few from the West made it happen, while others failed, often going back home for a shot at regional prizes. The big tours would dip their toes in and out of California water – always hoping to “open up the West” – but then return to more familiar locales. There was just always something missing.

Mark Lassagne hopes to change that. A veteran tournament angler and media specialist, Lassagne is best known for operating Bass Angler Magazine (BAM), now occupying a space right on par with the bigger tournament pubs. More recently, Lassagne entered the organized fishing business.

By purchasing the equipment from the defunct Wild West Bass Trail, Lassagne plans to reinvent competitive fishing in the West. For him, it’s a necessity. “There’s a void in the bass fishing world here. There’s just not a good, viable circuit in Northern California.” Through three divisions, – Pro Tour, Pro-Am and a popular kayak series, the BAM Tournament Trial offers something for every level of competitor.

While a number of smaller trails continue to call the West home, none comes with the business plan put in place by Lassagne. “I’m spinning the media end of this 180 degrees. I’m giving my anglers national exposure.”

Through a 17-year history of Bass Angler Magazine, as well as major social channels reaching as many as 1 million eyes monthly, Lassagne brings a component to the table that few other tournament start-ups can offer: a media network already in place. His media contact list is vast (I’ve personally known Lassagne to be THE guy for any West Coast bass news), and his exposure is benefitting not only his anglers, but sponsors and community hosts, something Lassagne was careful to plan out ahead of time.

“It’s pretty uncommon to start out a tournament trail and already have 100,000 fans on Facebook.”

The endeavor has been one of late nights and serious office time. “It’s 100 times more work than I thought it would be,” confirmed Lassagne. “Local permits, lake permits, USDA permits, lodging for staff, host facilities, media plans, camera crews.” The list goes on. A case in point: Lassagne’s purchase came with a release boat, one he was assured was in decent condition. “Me and three guys spent 12 days on that boat. Afterwards, I put $30,000 into fixing the tournament trailer.”

A lifetime Marine, Lassagne isn’t one for half-way: “I want everything squared away,” he commented. That includes graphics on his trailers, video screens and numerous press releases before, during and after each event. He aims to model the format and professionalism of Major League Fishing’s biggest tournaments.

“At the end of the day, if you win, and nobody hears about it, you can’t drive sales for your sponsors,” Lassagne noted. And that has likely been the biggest hurdle in expanding West Coast fishing circuits. Lassagne’s sponsor list is already stout, even before the first event has launched. Bass Boat Technologies grabbed the title role, with Tackle Warehouse the presenting brand. Bass Cat, Mercury, Dish Network and Garmin are some of the national names behind the BAM Trails. Local communities and businesses have joined as sponsors, too. A major perk includes the recent announcement of two prize boats.

Still, the West Coast fishing scene has always offered unique logistic and economic challenges. With higher costs of living, Lassagne explained, fishing tournaments are less of a priority for many households. But one can’t discount the cult-like status of California-area bass fishing, never more exemplified than by the rise of retail giant Tackle Warehouse. There’s plenty of guys out West willing to swing the sticks for big bucks.

BAM’s initial event is the Lake Shasta Pro-Am starting today. “We hope for 100 boats in the Pro-Ams,” Lassagne explained. Such would grace the winner with a check just under $14,000, based on a $785 entry fee. The kayak events should see 100 boats; that group's always ready to show. The Pro Tour caps at 60 boats, with a $2,250 entry fee and top prize nearing $30,000 with a full field.

Lassagne’s BAM is a growing brand. Without question, he will deliver on the hype, likley a well-needed jab into the Western bass scene. But his core principles still lie with those aimed to benefit most. “What really matters to me is to have the anglers and the sponsors benefit, and appreciate it. I want this to be the best bass circuit to ever hit the West Coast.”

Knowing Mark Lassagne, such an outcome wouldn’t surprise anyone.

(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.)