Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bassmaster Classic: The Dream That Never Was

During this past Bassmaster Classic week I heard several different fishermen from Federation anglers to Elite Series pro's express the notion that fishing in the Bassmaster Classic was a lifetime "dream come true." A couple of times I heard it said that fishing in the Bassmaster Classic is the dream of all tournament bass fisherman. I must be an odd case then, because I can't say that fishing in the Bassmaster Classic has ever been one of my aspirations.

Growing up my family had a cabin on Lake Sylvia/Twin (now East & West Sylvia) near Annandale in Wright County Minnesota, which is about an hour and a half NW of Minneapolis; The two lakes are prolific largemouth bass fisheries. I was taught to fish at a very early age by my Dad, Grandmother Maas, and my Mom. Dad was my main fishing tutor and while he liked to fish, he was not overly serious about the sport, more of a casual weekend warrior type. Dad was much more serious about cars and Ham radio. Our fishing boat was late 1960's 14 ft Alumacraft with bench seats and a 5.5 horse Johnson motor. We also had a pontoon boat we would use for fishing. However, most of my early fishing was done off of our or our neighbors docks.

Of my 3 brothers and me, I was basically the only one to be badly afflicted with the fishing bug. I have just always loved to fish and we were up at the cabin frequently in the summer, so I got to go fishing often and as I grew older my love for fishing just grew and grew. My first exposure to fishing outside my family came from TV shows by Virgil Ward, Roland Martin, and Bill Dance. My first exposure to the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society probably came from commercials while watching fishing shows, but I also distinctly remember looking at Bassmaster Magazine at the Barber Shop in Annandale when I was probably around 8 years old. I remember thinking B.A.S.S. was the coolest thing and I wanted to join, but my parents didn't pursue it for me. I don't know when I was first made aware of tournament bass fishing, but I don't think it was until I was a teenager that I ever heard about the Bassmaster Classic and the information I heard about it was pretty scant. When it came to fishing I was much more interested in learning how to catch fish than I was interested in hearing about tournaments.

It wasn't until I was out of college and in my early twenties that I gave much thought to tournament bass fishing. In the 90's Lake Minnetonka used to be the site of a prestigious bass tournament called the Don Shelby US Invitational that drew in some of the big names of B.A.S.S.. The "Shelby" had a $50,000 top prize, which was big for those days. I was just astonished by how big a sack of bass it took to do well in that tournament. Sylvia/Twin is a peanut factory where 3lb and up fish are rare, and these guys were bringing in sacks with close to or over a 4lb average per fish. Also for the first time in my life I had cable TV and so I could watch the Bassmasters TV Show and I think I joined B.A.S.S. in 1993. In 1995 I went to see my first weigh-in ever at the Bassmaster Top 100 that was held on Lake Minnetonka.

I did not fish in my first bass tournament until 2 years later in 1997 when I was 27 years old; That summer I fished as a non-boater in 2 Military Bass Angler (now ABA) at Clearwater Lake in Wright County. I got skunked in my first tournament but did manage to catch a couple of fish on my second try. Looking back at it now, I had very little clue as to what I was getting myself into when I fished those tournaments, but despite the poor results I did enjoy myself and wasn't all that discouraged. In 1998 I joined The Fishers of Men Fishing Club (Twin Cities) which is just a fishing club, not a bass fishing club. It was not until I was 31 when I started fishing bass tournaments with any seriousness.

I think because I wasn't brought up with it and didn't start tournament fishing until well into adulthood is probably why the Bassmasters Classic for me is the dream that never was.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

FLW Tour Red River- Was Canceling the Right Decision?

It has now been 24 hours plus since the cancellation of the FLW Tour Tournament at the Red River out of Shreveport Louisiana. As the dust has settled some anglers have come out and voiced disagreement with the decision to cancel.

The first instance that came to my attention was BASS Elite Series Pro Edwin Evers in the cancellation story on In BassFan Dock Talk Elite Series Pro Steve Kennedy had remarks voicing his disagreement with the decision printed. And in one more instance yesterday on Facebook Jimmy Houston changed his mind and second guessed the decision after having initially said he thought the right thing to do was respect the opinion of the anglers who said it was too dangerous to fish. (Note- It is unclear whether or not a majority of the FLW Tour anglers were in favor of the decision to cancel, but according to the rumor mill at Bass Fishing Home Page it was close to around 100 anglers that wanted a no go.) FLW Tour angler Scott Canterbury seemed to indicate he agreed with Jimmy Houston on Facebook.

Here is an excerpt of what Jimmy Houston had to say when he changed his mind:
...No one ever forced us to fish and everyone had the option to quit if it got to tough or scary for them. A group of fishermen that were too afraid of the river, after spending three days practicing on it, should not penalize the rest who were willing to compete. I've heard the rumor that some fishermen did not want to compete because they were not catching fish. I hope this was not true. As a group, the FLW fishermen are exceptionally talented and extremely good fishermen. Every angler has the right to pull out and go home if they fear the water or weather but it's not right to force their opinion on the field.

On this matter I think Jimmy Houston and the others who voiced their displeasure are 100% misguided. I have looked into the matter and it is pretty clear to me that conditions were indeed hazardous, and in case of an emergency downright dangerous. Apparently the river was under a hazard advisory and the Coast Guard had pulled it's boats from the river.

It is no secret to tournament fisherman that events have been held many times, at pretty much every level of the sport, when conditions were indeed hazardous. It is just a fact of life that if something important is on the line than some competitors will push things beyond the limits of reasonableness and safety. I have heard horror stories and have seen pictures and video of boats and anglers in distress. Some problems may indeed be chalked up to gross angler negligence and stupidity but sometimes conditions are hazardous and accidents just happen.

There is little doubt in my mind that there has been real negligence and stupidity on the part of tournament organizations that have basically forced anglers to take risks when conditions are hazardous. I for one don't think it is good enough to say, if you don't like it you can just throw your entry fee and crucial championship and Angler of the Year points away. Often times too much is at stake for anglers or tournament organizations to let discretion be the better part of valour and that is NOT good for the sport. I for one don't think the upper echelons of the sport, be they anglers or tournament organizations, set a good example when they go ahead when conditions are clearly hazardous. That said, some conditions such as storms with gusting winds and lightening are more unpredictable and thus harder to take into account in advance.

In the case of the Red River you had a combination of high fast flowing frigid water on a river known for wood and other potential hazards. Jimmy made the argument that if you practiced in it than it was clearly fishable. But the fact is there is no time limit or pressure to go 100% wide open on a practice day. Obviously lots of anglers did not care for what they had to encounter in practice and saw the potential for things to go wrong. I think the fact that plenty of anglers were out in it and thought it was not acceptable trumps the you practiced in it, you can fish it argument. Dave Lefebre thought he was on the fish to do very well, but was 100% behind putting the safety of everyone first and that speaks volumes to me.

I think it unfortunate that FLW didn't foresee the potential for this to happen and have a back up plan just in case, but obviously I believe FLW did the right thing by the anglers and the sport.

So do you agree or disagree with me? Leave a comment.