Plenty of young tour-level pros have 3-year or 5-year plans for getting their careers off to a good start, but comparatively few pros of any experience level or vintage seem to be ready for what happens when you win a Bassmaster Classic.
To realize the truth in that statement, look back at the past 10 or so Classic winners and see how many of them spent a full year in the media spotlight – life-sized cutouts, full-page ads, non-endemic television appearances. I’m not going to name names, but plenty failed to seize the opportunity when they had the chance. For some, like Cliff Pace, that may be the plan, but I’d bet that most of them just didn’t map out the possibilities.
That lack of preparation goes back years. At the Elite Angler meeting in Birmingham in December, Steve Bowman described how one Classic winner rudely brushed off questions from the media in his post-victory press conference and has suffered for it ever since. While he’s still young enough to be out competing, he hasn’t found a spot of late on any of the three tours.
I’m not advising pros to clear off a space on their mantel for the trophy, or to write, edit and rewrite their victory speech – I understand that those actions might summon some sort of jinx -- but you’d better have a media and sponsor engagement plan in place for when you do win. The Classic waters are off-limits now, and while many members of the field no doubt continue to fine-tune their tackle for the March tournament, I’m all but certain that only a few have prepared to unleash the full power of what can happen if they do win.
That’s especially important this year, where the inter-tour dynamics make it more confusing than in the past, most notably for those in the inaugural class of the Bass Pro Tour. If they win the sport’s biggest event on their trip away from the Elite Series, not only will they not be able to defend their crown (a la Luke Clausen in 2006-07), but they won’t have the full heft of the B.A.S.S. media machine behind them. I’m certain that B.A.S.S. will do the right thing and publicize their victory as they would if one of their own were to win, but the assistance given to a BPT-bound winner will likely end there. Given the all-in expectations of the BPT brass, I doubt they’d allow their winner to go back to the Elites, even if invited. I might be wrong about all of this, but I think my expectations are on pretty solid ground.
That might not matter for a Kevin VanDam, whose persona and reputation is established, and who will get media exposure no matter what, but it might be critical for a Josh Bertrand or Gerald Spohrer, who need the validation of the Classic momentum to keep their careers on an upward trajectory – especially if they get lost in the shuffle of BPT’s stout competition.
So if you’re a young or “newer” tour-level pro – someone like Bertrand or Spohrer or Bradley Roy or Roy Hawk – headed to the Classic, and particularly if you’re now fishing BPT, start lining up the dominos as if you will win. When you do hoist the trophy, no one will ever be able to take the title away from you, but you really only have 12 months to make the most of it. You can extend that period by getting a jump start on the process.