July 29, 2015
Sometimes when I buy tackle, particularly if it's from Japan, the product's name alone doesn't tell me much about how it'll perform or exactly what it'll look like. This spinnerbait which arrived via ebay today offered up no such mysteries. The package simply pronounced it "Huge," which is pretty damn accurate for one ounce of filling-rattling goodness with a 9/0 hook. The only request I make going forward is that they place the letters where the skirt won't impede my view. Right now it looks like radio host Mike Francesa named it -- or would that be "yoooge"?
July 27, 2015
It all started with the Girl Scouts, but at least they offer up some delicious cookies.
It seems that in recent years it has become harder and harder to walk into a grocery store, a Wal-Mart or any other retailer without being bombarded with pleas for donations. Some of them are charitable, of course, but increasingly it has been school age kids asking me to subsidize their after-school activities in exchange for some good or service. It could be a Little League baseball team trying to get to Williamsport, an AAU basketball club headed to a summer tournament, or the school orchestra headed to a battle of the bands, they’re all represented and equally aggressive.
July 22, 2015
It seems that every year some manufacturer brings to ICAST a faux turtle, usually a soft plastic version that can be Texas-rigged or fished on a jig head. That turtle never ends up gaining traction. It’s never in any major retailers or featured on BassFan after producing a big Elite Series win. Maybe there’s a cover up or a campaign of secrecy that causes this to be so, but I doubt it. I just don’t think the turtle thing is ever going to catch on.
That’s not to say that bass don’t eat turtles (although I’m guessing they are a bee-yotch to digest), or that your turtle lure won’t occasionally catch a few, or that it’s not exceptionally lifelike and durable. Instead, I’m just telling you that if you want to make it big in the fish biz, that ain’t the route to riches. Even imitation ducklings and rats seem to pass the test of time a little better. Find yourself a new form of forage.
Last Updated on Monday, 20 July 2015 07:06
July 20, 2015
I haven’t made it to ICAST in a while because there really hasn’t been a work-related reason for me to go, and it’s clear that my presence has not been missed. The media hordes have grown exponentially since I last visited, and the same-day and after-the-fact coverage has likewise increased. I follow it religiously.
If you’re like me and you’ve toggled back among sites ranging from Bassmaster to TackleTour and down to lesser-known outlets, you’ve probably noticed that much of the coverage bears a strong resemblance to that of the others. Here’s KVD/Ike/Skeet talking about one of his big sponsors’ new products. Next up is an R&D staffer or engineer from one of the old standby manufacturers touting their latest and greatest creations.
I get it. We want to hear from the big names. We want to know what companies who’ve been here before, and will be here for the foreseeable future, are putting on the shelves. On top of that, the bigger media outlets have to please their advertisers and sponsors by giving their products space.
But if you’re a blogger attending ICAST for the first time, or a small-time website looking to make a name for yourself, what’s the purpose of allowing these stars/companies to produce near-verbatim video clips for you site? How does it distinguish you from the pack and help you gain market share and notoriety? It likely doesn’t. When younger or less experienced writers come to me and ask how to get a foothold in the fishing media, I always stress that it’s important to find a niche and/or a voice. We can’t all pen long thought pieces for Field and Stream or become a senior writer for Bassmaster. In the course of your career, you are going to have to write standard pieces like “How Pro X fishes a spinnerbait in the spring” that don’t allow for a tremendous amount of personality or riffing. None of us have the chops to go off course and be David Foster Wallace producing “Consider the Lobster.” That’s why when you have a chance to express some personality, as in ICAST coverage, it pays to experiment with format and content.
Give us “Top Ten Products No One Else Talked About” or a panel of three pros from competing sponsors discussing why their company is out in front. If they won’t do that, ask them to give us their ICAST highlight from a non-sponsor (perhaps in exchange for giving us the de rigueur sponsor plug). It’s not daring to be different – it’s part of your job.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 July 2015 05:57
July 15, 2015
If you wanted to play basketball in the 60s or 70s, you laced up a pair of Chuck Taylors and headed to the closest playground or to your school gym to shoot some hoops. There was nothing inherently meaningful or divisive about that action. Everyone from Dr. J to your neighborhood joke wore the same kicks.
By the 80s and 90s, however, what you wore on your feet became a political statement or even a liability. Not only were kids robbed for their Air Jordans, but if you were a talented player the sneaker companies often directed where you’d play. Kids wanted to be on an AAU team that repped Nike or Reebok or Adidas, because those teams were gateways to particular showcase camps and college programs that wore the same shoes on their feet. If you weren’t down with them now, there was little chance they’d pick you in the future. Sneaker company reps like Sonny Vaccaro doled out fat cash favors in the form of gear and travel (as well occasional direct payments, to be sure) to get the players they wanted. Some of it was legit, some was apparently under the table and didn’t necessarily have the kids’ best interests at heart.
For years, bass fishing has been about your rods and reels, your lures, even your boat and motor. We’re brand loyal, almost to a fault. What it has rarely been about, however, is what you wore. Most of us spent hundreds if not thousands of hours in the boat wearing “performance gear” that consisted of either a t-shirt and shorts or a sweatshirt and jeans. The older guys might’ve rocked the polyester jumpsuit. Those were our fashion statements.
To the extent that there was bass fishing-specific clothing, Columbia Sportswear was a clear leader, the Chuck Taylor of our world. Everyone from 10 year olds to tour level pros to grouchy old retired dudes in Wal-Mart scooters seems to have had a PFG shirt on their back at some point. While Columbia veered into the sponsorship realm occasionally, they don’t seem to have remained permanently planted in our world. Perhaps they didn’t see the need.
The absence of a clearly-involved sponsorship-oriented market leader may be a short lived thing, though. In recent years, we’ve had three major players try to claim that crown. They’re our Nike, Reebok and Adidas, although I’m not sure which is which. They come with three very different back stories.The first is Simms, the Montana-based apparel company that has long been a favorite of Saab driving long-rodders in waders. A few years ago they made a sustained push at the bass market that continues to this day. While their rust orange rainsuit was the leading cultural signifier of this effort, over time they’ve expanded and signed a fleet of bass pros.
Then came Under Armour, the fast-rising leader in the wider sports world. They seemed to pursue fishing as something of an afterthought, no doubt because it doesn’t have the market share of football or golf or running. They made some quality fishing shirts, shorts and pants, but they didn’t seem to gain an overwhelming following. They might not have had any reason to up their game, until a group of former UA executives left and started Huk, a more aggressive, fishing-specific company – and one which nabbed big names like KVD and Skeet Reese. Perhaps it’s entirely coincidental, but when that happened, UA came out with a more aggressively-styled line of fishing gear and signed anglers including Mike Iaconelli and John Crews.
It’s not quite the sneaker wars, but in some respects it’s very reminiscent. These companies have been aggressive in sponsoring not only individual anglers, but whole circuits as well….and not just one. For example, Huk signed on as a sponsor not only for B.A.S.S. but also for competitor Major League Fishing. Like a latter day Nike, they’re trying to corner as many markets as possible and build instant recognition and long-term brand loyalty.In addition to these three manufacturers of “high tech” clothing, it must be noted that Carhartt jumped into the game feet first a few years ago, latching themselves onto B.A.S.S. and officially bringing their workwear motif into the sport.
I doubt we’ll ever see a day when you have to be wearing Simms, Huk or Under Armour to compete in a particular tournament, but as we’ve already seen with Carhartt, it’s very possible that anglers will be tempted with performance bonuses for being the top-finishing angler wearing a particular brand on stage. That’s been done with boats, accessories and tow vehicles, so why not let your pants be a money maker, too?
Of course there are dozens of other new age bass-related sportswear companies out there. I’m not going to opine about who best plays the role of British Knights, LA Gear or even Stephon Marbury’s Starbury sneaker, but until angling in the buff is allowed, we all need to have our own fishing clothes, and like everything else, this revolution will be monetized.
Last Updated on Monday, 13 July 2015 11:08
July 13, 2015
I’ve worked the last four Bassmaster Northern Opens on the James River and it’s getting to the point that I can predict the composition of the field before I arrive in Richmond. There are of course top level tour pros, epitomized by Mike Iaconelli, who are there for an additional shot at the Classic or to keep their skills sharp during a break in the schedule. There are top locals, guys like Kelly Pratt, who have a shot to win on their home waters. There’s also a finite group with a legitimate shot to make the Elites if things go their way, a group which has ballooned with seemingly disillusioned FLW pros in the past year. There’s also the “just happy to be there” crew, anglers who want the thrill of competing against the best of the best or else just get away from their families for a week.
Then there’s the group of strivers who believe that they have a shot to make the Elites through the Opens, but whose chances of doing so are truly infinitesimal. Occasionally one or two of them will get a false positive in the form of a good finish, but for the most part they’re tilting at windmills, hoping against hope for a miracle. Then it’s back to 63rd or 105th or 190th, depending on the size of the field.
Some of them know deep down that it’s a farfetched dream for them to beat this top notch crew and pass go and collect their $200. But a larger percentage show up the next year convinced that they’ve put things together. You hear them in bait shops, or read their statuses on social media, talking about how they’ve put things together, learned from their mistakes, and this is their year. Maybe they post a pic or two of a 7- or 8-pounder. When the last fish has been weighed, the results are usually the same.
I’m guessing that the results are the same because the process is the same. They show up for four or seven or seventeen days of practice and go through the motions exactly the way they did the last time around. They are essentially beating their heads against a brick wall, hoping that it’ll feel good when they finally stop. Just once, I’d love to see one of these guys do well and get up on stage and talk about how three triple digit finishes led to consecutive top tens, or even top twenties. I’d love to hear him talk about how he’d been doing things the same way year after year, until he took a good look in the mirror and proceeded to rebuild his approach from the ground up. Unfortunately, most of us have so much ego capital invested in our past processes that we can’t let go of that security. Until someone can do that, it’ll be more Mike Iaconelli, a handful of other tour pros, and a few top local sticks dominating the final days.
Last Updated on Thursday, 09 July 2015 07:02
July 9, 2015
I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about ways in which the recognition and popularity of professional tournament bass fishing could be boosted, and that means I also spend a lot of time considering impediments to that process.
One reason that has occupied my mind quite a bit lately is the fact that we watch most major sports to see the incredible things that we can’t do. Most of us will never be able to throw a 95 mile per hour fastball or dunk a basketball. Even if we don’t give a damn about track and field, it’s simply amazing to watch someone run a hundred meters in less than 10 seconds. Most of us can’t get off the recliner and get to the fridge for a cold beer in that amount of time.
While 99% of the general public recognizes that they can’t attain those feats listed above, 99% of the fishing public believes that if given the right set of breaks and ample time on the water they could compete at an Elite/elite level. Even if you deny it, you have to admit that there’s some small corner of your brain that wants to believe it, the same part of your cranium that fully recognizes that you couldn’t hit a baseball 400 feet. That makes it harder to convince those people who don’t fish that what the top practitioners of the sport accomplish is truly incredible.
Last Updated on Monday, 06 July 2015 08:25
July 6, 2015
You can check out of the fishing game any time you like, but you can never leave. That’s what I thought to myself last week when I saw that Randy Dearman and his partner Brian Branum caught a limit that weighed nearly 24 pounds to win the $50,000 top prize in the Bass Champs Texas Shootout on a flooded Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
Dearman was the first tour-level angler I fished with, all the way back in April of 1997 during the practice period for an FLW Tour event at Buggs Island in Virginia. I’d driven down to the tournament with a friend who was pre-fishing with Denny Brauer. When we got to the ramp on the first day of practice, Brauer happened to be talking to Dearman, who agreed to take me out. I must’ve passed the test on Day One, because he invited me to fish with him the rest of the practice period. It was a great lesson from a top pro in how to break down a large body of water, and even if I didn’t fully grasp all of the instructions there for the taking, I internalized enough of them to make it extremely worthwhile.
In subsequent years I saw him a few more times, and fished with him on the Potomac and on Sam Rayburn. The latter lake was the site of perhaps his greatest achievement as a professional angler, his win in the 1993 Bassmaster Texas Invitational, a victory in which he announced to the bass fishing world the value of modern braided lines.
Like many other old-timers, he left the B.A.S.S. tour with the founding of the Elite Series, continuing to fish only the occasional Open. At one point I heard that Dearman, David Wharton and Doug Garrett were buying/selling some sort of mineral rights or oil leases in Arkansas. I believe that I saw Dearman one last time at the 2008 Toyota Texas Bass Classic, but otherwise I assumed that he was done with the bass scene.
Suddenly, though, at nearly 70 years old, he showed that he may have been at the edge of the radar, but he’s not fully outside of its range. What a nice surprise, bring your alibis.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 July 2015 08:07
July 1, 2015
Not everyone is thrilled with the rise of Navionics chips and Google Earth. Talk to most of the old timers in the bass game, those who predate fluorocarbon, tungsten and Red Bull, and you’re likely to hear a familiar refrain: “Force any of these young guys to fish with just a paper map and a flasher and they’d be lost.”
That may be the case, but it’s not really fair, because mapping chips, side-imaging electronics and all sort of other helpful technologies DO exist, and are available to every tournament angler. Nevertheless, there is a valid point to be made about the over-reliance on “video game” technology on the water – it has led some people to believe that it’s the technology getting the job done, when an angler’s instincts, skills and experience still play an outsized role in tournament results over the course of a tour-level season (unless you paid, borrowed or otherwise obtained a killer set of waypoints).
That’s why I was so happy to see John Cox do so well on this year’s FLW Tour. Not only does the dude fish out of a non-sparkly aluminum boat, but he doesn’t have a single transducer on it. No down-imaging. No side-imaging. No CHIRP, whatever that may be. Of the 150 or so anglers on the FLW Tour this year, most of whom have two, four or even six big screen graphs on their boats, only one finished better than Cox. It wasn’t like they fished an all-shallow-river schedule, either. With lakes like Chickamauga on the slate most wouldn’t have dreamed of making a cast without their onboard TVs.
I don’t know if Cox is a cheapskate, a Luddite, a contrarian or some combination of the three. I’ve never met him. Maybe he doesn’t need the added hassle of stuff breaking or otherwise complicating his efforts. No matter what his rationale, it seems to me like the equivalent of taking to the court in the NBA wearing a pair of Chuck Taylors, or stepping into the batter’s box against a Major League Pitcher without a scouting report. He's shown that mindless consumerism doesn't catch fish by itself. Call him The Natural.
June 29, 2015
When I am made king of the fishing empire, my first non-negotiable edict will be to ban fans from any hotels, rentable lakeside cabins, or lodges that cater primarily to fishermen. While I have yet to break a rod in one, it’s just a recipe for disaster.
Yes, I know that they keep the room cooler and circulate air, which is particularly important if you have an unhygienic or flatulent roommate, but I’m willing to invest in nose plugs, sweat a little bit more or pay more for A/C in order to avoid the risk.
That is all.