Recent events renewed my internal struggle as to what constitutes the ultimate bass tournament. Are the toughest grinds the real test of the best, or do slugfests showcase the true talents of the pros?
Here Iím referring to the Bassmaster Northern Open on the Chesapeake Bay, compared to the BPT event settling out this week on Mille Lacs Lake. We saw JT Thompkins take down the Chesapeake with 40 pounds for three days of fishing, while at the time of this writing, Alton Jones and MDJ were dusting the field at Mille Lacs with limitless 4-pounders. There, 40 pounds was just a starting point.
All deserve credit. And both tournaments showcased a come-from-behind charge, where anything is possible.
So which is better? Which type of tournament is a test of the best?
While the smallmouth smashfests make for great TV, Iíll stick with the grinder. Tough tournaments have always made history. And tough tournaments bring the very best anglers to winnerís circle. Usually.
I remember watching the toughest tournament ever (at that point) when the Bassmaster Tournament Trail visited the Harris Chain of Lakes in the early '90s. There, California finesse ace Mike Folkestad won with under 15 pounds for three days of fishing.
And there were Classics that showcased the talents of the worldís best under the worldís worst conditions. Larry Nixon, George Cochran and Kevin VanDam are three names that took Classic crowns when the going got tough. Nerdy fans like me will remember that VanDam, in fact, established the lowest winning weight of any major Bassmaster event in Pittsburgh with under 13 pounds for the whole show.
But recall, if youíre able, the way that particular tournament went down. VanDam used his incredible fortitude as an athlete and competitor to rapidly fish a small jerkbait for three solid days, tricking just enough 12-inch fish to win. And we saw the heartbreaking loss by Aaron Martens, truly one of the greatest finesse anglers to ever play the game. Gosh, what a tournament that was! A true test. As grueling as it comes.
The recent Open reminded me of those events. Pete Gluszek was a lock to take it down. Heís the best in that part of the world; always has been. But a young kid deciphered a final-day secret, one subtle change, resulting in a heroic charge on the last lap. Vintage stuff.
However, thereís occasionally an exception to the rule of my tough tourney preference. Itís the ultimate wild card prone to plague our game.
Though rare, sometimes when the fishing gets so tough that the best canít seem to put together a decent bag, some schmuck flails around the launch site and lucks into a winning stringer. Itís sure to be a victorious bag because, just last weekend, the same fish were weighed at a local derby.
Everyone whoís ever fished many grinders has been on the receiving end of this. You work your butt off for a handful of keepers and Larry catches a 4-pounder on a ChatterBait Ė the only 4-pounder weighed in that day Ė and beats you by an ounce. Lucky Larry. That happens from time to time in the real tough tournaments.
It does not happen, however, in the events where a guy catches 25 bass weighing a hundred pounds. It takes a fair bit of skill to catch a hundred pounds.
And there is some appeal in watching the best in the world approach one of the best fisheries in the world. There will be no shortage of action, thatís for sure. It will take a true champion to prevail, which is why we tend to see the biggest names pop up during these incredible events. Jacob Wheeler immediately comes to mind. Is it any doubt that he will be near the top when the fishing is off the charts?
Maybe the argument persists that the venues with massive catches sort things out the best. Here, again, Iíll refer to Classics. Clunn on the Arkansas River. Good gracious. Davy Hite on the Louisiana Delta, and KVD back on the Delta. Those were mighty impressive. And the regular-season events on places like Fork and Falcon. The first trips to Amist
ad. Santee when itís on. St. Clair, Sturgeon Bay.
Now that I think of it, the slugfests showcase the talents like few other events can. So where does that leave us?
If nothing else, it reinforces the notion that tournaments, and most importantly tournament trails, should continue to switch up venues as frequently as possible, resulting in a diversity of competition. Itís important to stay cognizant of this.
You see, as time goes on, and so much awareness is placed into tournament venues and host sites, we forget about the importance of the competition itself. True, it makes for great broadcasts to see a fish catch every 4 seconds. But what are we proving in terms of the competition?
Donít give up on the grinders. Over time, tough tournaments have added a lot to this sport.
Because, letís face it, not every day is a smash-fest.
(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.)