By Steve Graf
Anglers who are trying to reach the highest level of professional bass fishing just had the rug jerked out from under them. For any serious bass fisherman, their dreams as youngsters of making it to the highest level of professional bass fishing (the B.A.S. S. Elite Series) are no different than those kids dreaming of making it to baseball’s Major League level. To put this in perspective and to illustrate how difficult this task can be…. less than 2% of all high school athletes get the chance to play at the collegiate level. Making it to the highest level of professional bass fishing is on par with this same stat.
To say the odds of making it to the Elite Series of professional bass fishing are not good is an understatement. I will say this, many anglers have gone bankrupt and kept divorce attorneys quite busy over the last 30 years trying to achieve this dream. Not to say it’s not possible, but the odds are not in your favor. Today, there are so many anglers pursuing this goal that our lakes have gotten very crowded with guys looking to make it. They’ll work (or fish) their way up the food chain any way possible in order to get that one opportunity. Now let me make this clear, some will lie, cheat, steal or sell their firstborn for this one chance of making it as a professional angler.
B.A.S.S. (Bass Angler’s Sportsman Society,) which is home of the Elite Series, has just made a change to the path, or yellow brick road, of getting there. Originally you had to fish what was called the “Opens.” By fishing the “Opens” first you had to commit to all three tournaments in one of three divisions called Southern, Central, and Northern. If you finished in the top 3 in the Angler of the Year standings for your division, you got an invitation to fish in the Elite Series. You then had to decide if you would accept the invitation or pass. This is where guys would refinance their homes, take out major loans or maybe sell their own blood. But if you accepted the invitation, now you had to put up the entire season’s worth of entry fees ($5000 per event) and prepare for life on the road for a total of 9 events all across the country.
You basically have over a $50,000 investment into this tournament trail, and you have not even wet a hook yet. Guys scramble to hopefully convince businesses to help them offset this cost by becoming a sponsor of this individual angler. Anglers are then at the mercy of these sponsors who made this commitment. The sponsors will use these guys for advertising and promotional needs of whatever product or products they offer. Today’s sponsors are looking for anglers that can sell and have great communication skills. They must be able to sell, or the sponsor doesn’t need them.
But this past July, B.A.S.S. changed the game plan. Now for 2023, anglers must commit to ALL NINE events of the newly formed Bassmaster Elite Qualifying Series in order to qualify for the Elite Series. For the average working man or weekend warrior, their hopes and dreams just got hooked and reeled in. The average working man can’t take off work or ask for 9 weeks of vacation. My perspective on how this came to be…B.A.S.S looked at how many anglers fished all nine Opens in 2021 and saw that 83 anglers made that commitment.
This is when the so-called “lightbulb” moment took place. They thought if we are already getting 83 anglers to fish all nine, then those guys are the ones who are serious about being professionals. So, we’ll just make it a requirement in order to make it to the Elite Series. This is when so many anglers’ dreams were shattered. Now I’m not condemning B.A.S.S. for making this move; it actually makes a lot of sense. Now, anglers that are truly committed to being a pro angler will have fewer anglers to compete against in order to do so. The field of competition just got a lot smaller!
B.A.S.S. is a great organization that has granted a lot of anglers the opportunity to pursue their dreams. They are, and have always been, the gold standard for bass fishing organizations. They have set the bar very high and have a great reputation for changing the financial fortunes of so many pro anglers, along with their affiliated sponsors. Many other organizations have challenged B.A.S.S., and many have failed to knock them off the top of the mountain. They are and will continue to be, the big dog unless another organization can promise and deliver a better product. Till next time, good luck, good fishing, and don’t forget your sunscreen.
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