By Steve Graf
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve looked at the history of tournament bass fishing and how far the sport has evolved. Today, we’ll wrap it up with the big move that helped take tournament bass fishing to another level….prime time TV coverage.
In October of 2004, ESPN announced a new brand of outdoors TV coverage called “BassCenter.” It was a new half hour show dedicated to B.A.S.S. and professional bass fishing. This was the shot in the arm that the sport needed! For years, bass tournament coverage was only seen on outdoor channels or on the internet. But this was prime time TV coverage that most Americans had never really been exposed to. What a perfect fit for ESPN, which already had a built-in outdoors audience. Other shows dedicated to the new ESPN Outdoors programming were “Loudmouth Bass,” “Bass Tech,” and “Bassmaster University,” which brought in professional anglers to give their expertise with tips and tactics for catching bass.
Other networks soon followed like Fox Sports (FS1) with Saturday morning prime time coverage. Then in August of 2010, a group of investors led by the legendary Jerry McKinnis (host of the ESPN’s 2ndlongest-running show,) along with Don Logan and Jim Copeland, bought B.A.S.S. LLC. This purchase paved the way for more angler/sponsor exposure and encouraged top name brand sponsors to get behind the programming. Suddenly, bass fishing was popular and pro anglers became household names…names like Skeet Reece, Kevin Van Dam, Gerald Swindle, Mike Iaconelli, the late Aaron Martens and too many more to mention. Of course, with TV promotions came big money as tournament payouts went up from $25,000 to $50,000 for a win, to $100,000 and as high as $300,000 for a Bassmaster Classic or MLF Redcrest Cup win.
Today’s anglers and the sport of bass fishing has come a long way from the days of parking lot weigh-ins and good ol’ boys looking for bragging rights. Now they have major sponsors like Toyota, General Tires, Yeti Coolers, Academy Sports, Berkley, and Mercury/Yamaha Engines to name a few. These days, tournament weigh-ins are held in sold out arenas and convention centers with drive through weigh-ins. Today’s anglers are borderline rock stars with their sponsor wrapped trucks and boats. But with all the fame and fortune comes obligations and commitments, as anglers are pulled in every direction from doing commercial spots to speaking engagements. These guys make a lot of family sacrifices as they are on the road for weeks at a time. Being a professional bass fisherman today is tough and is a job like no other. It takes dedication and hard work to make a career out of bass fishing. The fishing part for many of these anglers is a welcome break from all the other things that go into being a professional angler. Today’s angler must be a great salesman and an organized businessman. He must have great communications skills and the ability to speak in public.
I hope you’ve enjoyed looking into the history of bass fishing. It’s obvious that the sport has evolved and come a long way from a dream that Ray Scott (founder of B.A.S.S.) had back in the 1960’s. So, if you’re looking to follow in the footsteps of today’s professional anglers, be prepared for long hours and hard work, because it’s no longer just a fun day at the lake. Till next time, good luck, good fishing and don’t forget to set the hook!