In 2001, just after OMC (then-manufacturer of Johnson and Evinrude outboards) went belly-up, I was scheduled to spend a tournament practice day with Missouri pro Chad Brauer. As we trolling-motored away from the Jolly Roger Marina on the upper end of stumpy Toledo Bend, his father Denny yelled out, “Try not to break anything!”
There would be no Evinrude service trailer at that event. Parts were in short supply. If Chad knocked off a lower unit or his powerhead blew up, he was toast. As it turned out, I drew Chad on the second day of the event and he hit plenty of underwater obstacles as we idled into Bayou San Patricio, but his motor held up. He led us both to limits and to checks.
But what if his outboard had given up the ghost during practice, or early in the tournament? Would he have been able to get a loaner? If so, would he have been allowed to use it? Or would he have just gotten a nice handshake, a “thank you very much for playing,” and an early trip home?
Almost two decades later, the question is not as academic as it seems.
With three major trails next year, even if none of the boat/motor/accessory manufacturers go bankrupt, service teams are going to be spread awfully thin early in the season. Add in the Bassmaster Opens, Costas, all sorts of regional events (as well as saltwater trails), plus ICAST and the Championships, and even if a company has multiple crews they’re going to have a lot of midnight windshield time trying to get from one event to the next.
It’s not just boats and motors, although those would seem to be the most critical elements of an angler’s kit. Trolling motors, shallow water anchoring systems and electronics all occasionally go haywire or otherwise get damaged. Sure you could fish without one of them if forced to do so, but try to find a pinpoint spot on Erie in 6-footers or navigate the labyrinthine Louisiana Delta without a GPS and you’re at a clear competitive disadvantage. Even if you carry or can purchase replacements, one tough-to-find electrical gremlin might cause you to bang your head into a brick wall while the rest of the field enjoys record catches.
I know that the service crews have historically worked collectively, but that doesn’t mean someone running Boat Brand A or Motor Brand X is a priority to a service crew paid by Boat Brand B or Motor Brand Y. They might try to help you, but when one of their guys comes through the line you’re going to get pushed to the back – and there are only so many hours to fix things between Friday’s weigh-in and Saturday’s blast-off.
I wonder how many pros – if any – took this into account when choosing which tour to fish next year. It would seem to be a logical question, but most of these guys have great rainsuits, which means they don’t always plan for rainy days. No one aspires to fish the Bankmaster Classic. There is no Forrest Wade Cup. When you’re fishing for a huge payday, but your Hydroblaster has a big hole in the fiberglass and your motor is reduced to a bucket of bolts, those may be the best outcomes you can hope for.