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The Evolution of Bass Fishing


A lifelong fishing enthusiast who has won tournaments and caught fish from Canada to Arkansas.

Not too bad, but no tournament winner.

Not too bad, but no tournament winner.

I grew up fishing...

Absolutely loved it, lived for it, breathed it. My dad joined B.A.S.S. (Bass Anglers Sportsman's Society) way back in the day, around 1970. He fished some tournaments, took me fishing from Texas and Louisiana to Canada and taught me the fundamentals of what it took to be successful at fishing. Along the way, I won a few tournaments myself, caught some really nice bass, bluegill, pike, muskie and white bass. Even caught a few good catfish and carp for good measure, and went bowfishing for alligator gar at times, but nothing quite captures the imagination like bass fishing a tournament. There is just something about being pitted against someone for a prize. Anyone can do it; hell I took third in a tournament fishing from an inner tube on Bull Shoals one year! Yep, my dad dropped me off in a cove to fish while he took my sisters on to another place to fish a Cancer Tournament and when he returned, I had 12 lbs. for the weigh in.

But the true giants of bass fishing are those I mentioned above; they paved the way, caught a country's imagination. Even people in other countries began to import bass in order to have tournaments themselves in places like South Africa and Japan.

But to me, although bass fishing might seem the same and be called the same, it is so far removed from where it began that it is almost unrecognizable from what began in the late 1960's.

The beginning...

In 1967, Ray Scott rounded up some fisherman and held a tournament on Beaver Lake in Arkansas. Just a few years later, he created the Bassmasters Classic and flew the top pros to a hidden location, supplied them with a boat made by Rebel (Ranger Boats had a fire that year so was unable to provide the boats for the first classic. They took over the next year and continued that streak unbroken until 2000) fully rigged with a Lowrance depth finder, temp gauge and a trolling motor. Bobby Murray of Hot Springs, Arkansas was the winner of the inaugural Classic, taking home a whopping $10,000 for first place.

Some of these fisherman began to become household names, have TV shows, and find their way into the very fabric of America. Jimmy Houston, Bill Dance and Roland Martin to name just a few all had fishing shows on national TV on the weekends in the 1970's and beyond. Bill's show is still on today after his beginning in 1968; at 900 episodes and counting, Bill has almost half again the number of episodes Gunsmoke aired. One of my favorite funny memories involving these guys was when a reported asked Jimmy what his favorite depth finder was; he replied "Fenwick". The reporter was puzzled and said "I didn't know Fenwick made depth finders?" to which Jimmy replied "They don't; they make fishing rods. I like to fish five or six line guides deep!". Jimmy is a shallow water guru who has made a living tossing a spinnerbait.

1971 Bassmasters Classic Lake Mead, Arizona

1971 Bassmasters Classic Lake Mead, Arizona

Tournaments began to pop up everywhere, with towns creating bass clubs of all sizes and shapes. Men and women fished these tournaments, and even companies began to put them on, private companies who had employees that enjoyed fishing. Prizes would be donated, a weekend set and off they went for three days of fishing against their coworkers, with the winner getting bragging rights for a whole year.

Boats saw innovations, going from blunt nosed tri-hulls to smooth, sleet speed demons. The first Classic boat topped out at less than 40 mph; the new boats hit twice that. Live wells for the bass to keep them lively and releasable were created; batteries were engineered to have longer life, less weight and produce power for the electronics that have become a necessity for the modern angler. The old Lowrance "Little Green Box", the first "fish finder" available to the everyday angler was a flasher, showing where its sonar came into contact with something, a tree or a fish and little else. The modern units are not much removed from having a camera under the boat, allowing an angler to watch as a fish approaches his lure.

Lures have gone from hand poured plastic worms made from tough rubber to hard baits costing over $100, scent impregnated soft baits that bass hold onto longer, realistic lures that "swim" through the water and beyond. No more can a tackle box contain a few lures for a day on the lake; boxes and totes, bags and containers fill up the storage on a boat to overflowing, at least if one is a serious bass fisherman. Gone are the days of the possum belly tacklebox, with drawers that pivot out and reach towards the sky; now the pros have boxes upon boxes of types of lures, broken down into colors, size, depth, and any imaginable combination therein.

I fished a company tournament one year where the man who won it literally fished three days in the cove the tournament was going out of. He had an old boat with a 40 HP Johnson motor and it refused to fire up and run that weekend. So, he used his electric trolling motor and fished every moment of every day within sight of the launch ramp and camp, catching bass enough to win the tourney.

Not today. Well, for the most part, anyway. Today's boat will fly down the lake at speeds approaching 100 mph at time, and some of these pros will run 40, 50, even 60 miles one way to reach a particular spot to fish. They lower their 100 lb thrust trolling motor, turn on the underwater camera system and cruise until they see a bass, then cast countless times with different lures until either they catch the fish or realize it ain't hungry right now. Then they pull up the trolling motor, fire up their 300 HP motor and fly off to the next spot.

They call it "runnin' and gunnin'" and sometimes they spend more time runnin' than gunnin'. But, that is what the tournament world is today.

Or is it? Most tournaments feature a limit of bass, commonly 5 or so, of a legal length weighed in at the end of the day. The fisherman spends the day trying to get the largest stringer they can get, catching more and culling (release a smaller fish after you get a larger one) and carrying them around all day long.

But not all tournaments are run this way. Major League Fishing (MLF) has revolutionized the tournament world by sending a weighmaster in each participant's boat. These weighmasters will weigh each fish as it is caught, then immediately the fish is released. This does two very significant things: 1) it allows the fish to be released immediately back into its environment with the least stress it could suffer and 2) it creates a scenario where the fisherman never reaches his limit of bass, thus allowing them to continue to fish and catch more and more bass in the day.

In the video above and below, competitors are in a pattern or location which allows them to catch an unbelievable number of bass during a tournament which they would otherwise not be able to catch, and it creates a winning situation for them. Edwin Evers, who is a bass fisherman I would greatly enjoy fishing with for a day, sits in one spot and catches a bass on virtually every cast, so fast the weighmaster cannot keep up and the announcers are making jokes about how the other competitors still think they have a chance and are going to be shocked at how far behind they are when the tournament ends. In the other video Jacob Wheeler, another of my favorite anglers, fishes my home lake of Table Rock and catches over a hundred pounds of bass in a single day. He almost hits the century mark on the number of bass caught, ending with 96 I believe. But rather than this being a runaway, another competitor is matching him almost fish for fish which creates a very exciting competition.

Ultimately, things change; I know that. But the speed at which they are changing in bass fishing has shocked me. Never would I have ever dreamed of underwater cameras allowing a fisherman to target a specific fish, or the speeds these boats fly over the water, or lures costing more than I used to make in a week of work. Hell, my first summer job I only made a hundred bucks for the entire summer, and now a single lure can cost that much!

Gone are the days of Ray Scott and his unknown destinations for the Classic; gone are the days of Jimmy, Roland and Bill being competitive on the tournament trail, rather their children follow in their footsteps. I am happy to see old time anglers like Rick Clunn, from nearby Ava, Missouri still competing, and Gary Klein still outfishing people young enough to be his child, or grandchild. But for every one of these legends, there are a hundred young guns casting faster, retrieving quicker, driving faster and winning more money in a single tournament than they could win in an entire year of competing.

But along with this comes innovations like the Bassmasters being broadcast live during the tournament, allowing me to follow along with those I choose to follow. I can even pick from the list of competitors in a given tournament and create my own Fantasy Fishing team and compete against others from around the world for prizes myself!

And there are the old time, individual tournaments like the one being held in a couple of weeks that I am entered in, the KVD Big Bass Tournament where one cast, one fish can win you a prize worth over $50,000.00. These are held across the country every few weeks so bass fisherman cant test themselves against others and compete to see who can hold bragging rights for an entire year by catching the biggest bass in the lake.

Okay, I gotta go; gotta get out and practice today for the tourney. I'll let you know how I do and maybe invite you to ride in my new boat that runs 70 mph.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Mr Archer

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