On Thursday night I attended the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame’s annual induction banquet in Springfield, Missouri and I was heartened by the appreciation for our sport’s history that seemed to defy otherwise semi-clearly drawn battle lines, both new and old. The BFHOF, along with uber-capable Executive Director Barbara Bowman, have worked hard to ratchet up the intensity of an organization that had been moving forward only slowly in prior years. That, plus the willingness of Johnny Morris to lend his real estate and juice to the project, portend good things for the Hall.
A few hundred movers and shakers (plus a few ink-stained wretches) enjoyed a chance to rub elbows, bid on incredible auction items and eat and drink among people with a common passion – all while watching Berkley Bedell, James Henshall, Helen Sevier, Tommy Sanders, Gary Klein and KVD receive honors that were due to them.
While most watched the inductees and listened to the speeches, I watched the watchers. I looked around the room at people who’ve caught more fish on odd-numbered Tuesdays in July than I’ll catch in my entire life. I looked around the room and watched people whose bank accounts have far more zeroes at the end than my own. And I looked around the room and saw people who we know only by their first names, or even just their initials. To a man (or woman), they were just as captivated by the ambience and the importance of the event as I was.
I watched as anglers and industry giants who’ve probably used thousands of his namesake baits, but never knew his identity, listened to 97 year old former Congressman Berkley Bedell implore them to harness their collective power for the good of the sport and the good of the planet.
I watched as Rick Clunn stared with rapt attention as KVD gave his acceptance speech. I later watched as Clunn bear-hugged Skeet Reese in a show of affection and emotion that I don’t often associate with the four-time Classic winner.
Professional bass fishing is a relatively young sport, just 50 or so years old, which means that while most fans haven’t been here for its entirety, even the young ones can easily digest its history. Up until now there have been two pivotal eras: (1) Ray Scott’s creation of B.A.S.S.; and (2) the challenge posed and opportunities created when the FLW Tour was born. We may now be entering a third critical period. Whether you consider the current happenings a Civil War, a civil rights movement, both or neither, we may be about to experience a seismic shift – or it might just end up being a blip on the long-term radar. The history of this era remains to be written, and there will be a far more developed record of it than in those past eras. There was no internet in the late 60s, and it wasn’t in widespread use in the late 90s. We can only hope that when the history books are written this period is chronicled by comparatively impartial observers.
I also sincerely hope that there are no unforced errors and that the people who were in that ballroom – as well as thousands of others around the country and others who may not yet know a bass from a baseball -- remain invested in the next 50 years of development. The people who understand the sport and care about the sport are aware of its history and willing to both celebrate and confront it.