Fishing – It’s Anyone’s Game

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Feature

SportsEvents Magazine June 2014
Contributed by Cathy Wiggins (Writer)
Pictures by Gary Mortenson

To say fishing is a popular sport, might be an understatement. After all, more than 60 million people in the country enjoy this American pastime, making it “the third most popular recreational sport in America. More people fish than play golf and tennis combined,” said Dave Precht of B.A.S.S. LLC.

“More than twice the number of people fished in 2011 than attended every NFL game combined,” added Joseph Opager of FLW Outdoors. That includes everything from deep-sea fishing to angling for catfish. But one fact stands out among the others. “Bass fishing is far and away the most popular form of sport-fishing,” Precht said.

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In the United States, fishing’s history as a professional sport can be traced back to 1967, “when the first professional bass tournament was held on Beaver Lake, Ark.,” Precht said. “The tournament was organized and promoted by Ray Scott, an insurance salesman from Montgomery, Ala. The tournament drew 106 anglers.”

More tournaments followed that year, with Scott launching Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) in January 1968. “Scott decided to organize America’s bass anglers to promote the growth of fishing, to protect aquatic resources and to teach youngsters how to fish,” Precht said.

Almost three decades later an additional bass tournament came on the scene. “The tournament-fishing landscape changed dramatically on July 24,1996, when Minneapolis businessman Irwin L. Jacobs purchased a small bass tournament organization in Gilbertsville, Ky., renamed it FLW after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forest L. Wood, and signed major corporations as sponsors for the world’s most lucrative bass-tournament circuit – the Wal-Mart FLW Tour,” Opager said.

One reason for the sports popularity is that anyone can participate. “It is one of only a few professional sports where men and women can compete on equal footing,” Opager said. “You don’t have to be seven feet tall, run a 4.3 second, 40-yard dash or bench press 500 pounds.”

Thus, fishing is quite an appealing sport for those with special needs. “One of the most inspiring athletes anyone could hope to meet is professional bass angler Clay Dyer of Hamilton, Ala.,” Opager said. Clay was born on May 23,1978, without any lower limbs, no arm on the left side and a partial arm on the right. However, these limitations did not keep him form competing in fishing tournaments starting at age 15.

He became a professional angler in 1995 and fished the FLW Tour for several years. Today, Clay spends the majority of his time-sharing his life experiences through motivational presentations. He is also a volunteer fishing coach at Hamilton High School in Alabama. He uses no special equipment while on the water. His gear is the same as very other competitor.

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While almost exclusively males have dominated the competitive aspect of fishing, “There have been several notable accomplishments by female anglers on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour and other FLW circuits over the years,” Opager said. ”Participation has absolutely flourished with the introduction of FLW College Fishing in 2009 and FLW High School Fishing in 2011. Today, more female anglers are participating in competitive bass fishing than ever before.

That evolution started several decades ago at B.A.S.S. LLC. “While women were welcomed in into the B.A.S.S. organization, the tournaments were men only for the first several years,” Precht said. “A women’s professional fishing organization and circuit, Bass’n n Gals, was created by another entrepreneur, Sugar Ferris, in the 1980s. Bassmaster competition was opened to women in the late 1980s, and several compete regularly in Bassmaster events today.”

B.A.S.S. LLC boasts chapter members in 47 states, as well as several countries, while FLW numbers are also growing rapidly. “There are currently 637 FLW College Fishing clubs on campuses nationwide and more than 1,270 high school fishing team in 42 states and Ontario,” said Opager. “The Bass Federation (TBF)-affiliated clubs conduct more than 20,000 fishing youth and conversation events at the local level each year.”

Precht attributes the popularity of fishing to B.A.S.S. LLC’s heavy promotional efforts through its events and media, including ESPN2 coverage. “In addition, The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation has made significant inroads in getting anglers to take other people fishing,” he said.

Both B.A.S.S. LLC and FLW use social media to continually cultivate interest, but Opager credits universal access to fishing for people from all walks all life as the source of the sport’s popularity. “It has a unique appeal in sports that brings people together across generations,” he said. “Nearly every angler has a story about fishing with a grandparent, father, mother, aunt, or uncle.”

Another fuel to the sport’s popularity is the tournaments, which are televised to widespread audiences. “The worldwide exposure of the Classic and Bassmaster Elite Series competition generates tremendous interest among people who might not otherwise be attracted to fishing,” Precht said. “In addition, competitive fishing opportunities at all levels from high school through college and weekend tournaments extend opportunities for more people to be involved.”

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Fishing’s broad appeal also allows for a family atmosphere. “Attending Bassmaster tournaments are always a popular family activity,” Precht said. “Many of these professional anglers travel on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour with their families.” As for the cost of fishing, Precht doesn’t consider that an issue. “Most older anglers today started out with nothing more than a cheap road and reel or maybe a cane pole and some fishing line and hooks,” he said. “Public access areas for fishing abound throughout the country. Admittedly, fishing from a boat is more productive than from shore, but you can get into a johnboat, canoe or kayak for under $500. Tackle can be as simple and inexpensive as you want to make it.”

Opager said FLW strives to make sure participation opportunities continue for all ages. “This is evident in our High School Fishing and FLW College Fishing programs,” he said. “We also continually enhance our media offerings to keep fans engaged with timely and meaningful content. Mobile media is playing a rapidly increasing role in growing our fan base with the introduction of a short code texting program that allows fans to interact with FLW pros for special promotional offers and sweepstakes opportunities.”

High-school anglers often compete for college scholarships. However, Precht said winning a prize isn’t the main draw for the teen tournament participants. “More impactful is the fact that many high school students love bass fishing and the thrill of competing, just as they might any other collegiate sport,” he said.

Competitors aren’t the only ones drawn to fishing tournaments. The competitive side of the sport has a strong fan base. “Bassmaster Classics provide a significant economic impact for the cities and regions that host them,” Precht said. “Louisiana has proved to be an excellent venue for fans as more than 137,000 broke attendance records at the 2009 Bassmaster Classic on the Red River in Shreveport-Bossier City, LA. The 2013 Bassmaster Classic in Tulsa, Okla., drew an impressive 106,850 fans. Tulsa’s BOK center was filled to capacity, and many spectators were turned away on the final day.”

Thus, the draw of fans plays a part in selecting sites for tournaments. “Like any other sport, we want to bring our events into communities that enthusiastically support them,” Opager said. “In that regard, a strong local following does play a role in the selection of tournament sites.”

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Precht said other factors also come into play in those selections. “Among considerations are an adequate boat launch or harbor area that will accommodate 100 to 200 bass boats launched in a fairly short period of time, plus space for a weigh in-stage, thousands of spectators and of course, parking,” he said. “There needs to be adequate lodging near the fishery. The lake or river must be large enough to accommodate 100 to 400 anglers along with recreational anglers. An engaged local organizing committee is desirable to help with logistic and volunteer support.”

Precht said challenges in making those selections could vary, according to the situation. “The main difficulty probably is scheduling to make sure there is plenty of hotel space in the community at the time, and that we don’t place tournaments on top of other important events, either in sport-fishing events or other events in the host community,” he said. For Opager, the biggest challenge is keeping an eye on the calendar. “With 243 events on the schedule each year, our biggest challenge is scheduling tournaments that meet each other host’s desired time frame while avoiding conflicts with other FLW events,” he said.

As for 2015, “most sites are pinned down by now,” Precht said. “The 2015 Bassmaster Classic has been announced; it will be in Greenville, SC., with fishing on Lake Hartwell.”

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