It wasn't long ago that high-profile anglers began utilizing the Internet to connect with their fans. Guys like Roland Martin and Bill Dance paved the way for others to follow, and in short time the net was filled with pro angler websites. In fact, nowadays, anglers at just about every level of the game have a web presence. I guess it's a validation of sorts, or perhaps a way to be recognized.
But how much traffic do these websites actually receive? Since the advent of social media, it seems most fan interaction takes place through Facebook and Twitter. If that's true, then why maintain a website at all?
I asked that of several Elite Series pros and the response was pretty much unanimous. They do it to maximize exposure and maintain communication, claiming a website gives them a larger platform to work from. And I agree. Facebook and Twitter are great vehicles to reach fans, but they have limitations.
With that in mind, here's a rundown of some of the larger, more interactive pro angler websites I visited.
Since he's the most accomplished angler of all time, it seems only fitting we begin with Kevin VanDam's site.
Kevin's homepage opens with exciting images of him winning the Bassmaster Classic and Angler of the Year titles. Below that are a series of columns featuring his angling tips, tournament schedule and latest videos.
An interesting hook to the site is "See What's Inside KVD's Garage." When I first saw this I thought, "Wow! This is even better than getting a peek inside his tackle locker." By entering the garage page, you'll find a list of sponsor icons, each leading to brief text and a video clip. It's not a virtual tour of his actual garage at all, and for that reason I was somewhat disappointed.
The presentation is slick, however. Each video begins with heart-pounding heavy-metal music and explosive graphics, then a window appears for the video. Click that and you'll get his personal endorsement on the key products he represents.
Like his colors in battle, KVD's site is strong on red and black. It adds impact to the many compartments that draw you in. One of which is an e-store for personalized products. There are also links to his fan pages on Facebook and Twitter.
Overall the site is fairly basic, with just about everything you'll need to see on a super-long homepage. Just like he prepares for each tournament, Kevin's site leaves little to chance.
After a quick tour of Mike Iaconelli's website, it's clear the content is a direct reflection of his fishing persona—bold, aggressive and busy!
When you open the site, a personalized rap rendition of Ike begins. As the music pounds, the header features Ike in his shark-mouth boat, bobbing up and down as if it were on water. The site's graphics are akin to black-light neon — bright and glowing against a black background.
Below the navigation bar is a series of columns, each featuring updates and info. Most dominant is the Bass University banner where he provides a schedule of upcoming schools, each listing a team of pro instructors. Underneath that you'll find a grouping of video panes, most of which show Ike offering tips and endorsing his sponsor's products.
A really smart component to the site is his "Fans Fish Pictures" section, where visitors can post images of themselves, family or friends. And believe me, they take full advantage of the opportunity — there are hundreds upon hundreds of posted photos. This gives Ike a great way to connect with his many fans.
Another savvy marketing ploy is how his site ties directly to Dick's Sporting Goods. Through a default purchasing page, fans can find his signature series Rapala crankbaits listed with thumbnail images and preferred pricing. Perhaps a bit commercial, it's effective nonetheless.
No one in this business is any better at promotion than Ike.
Consistent with the branding efforts of many top pros, Skeet Reese's homepage reflects his trademark color scheme — yellow on black. Fans acquainted with his flair for fashion will make the immediate connection.
A sizable section of the homepage is dedicated to sponsor links. By clicking on each logo icon, you're instantly transported to that specific sponsor's webpage.
Through the navigation bar, fans can access his "Signature Product Store," which features a line of Bassaholics brand, hip-hop angler wear. Unlike Ike's method of merchandising, Skeet offers one-stop shopping — enabling customers to purchase directly through his site.
Currently, Skeet's site is dedicated to the relief effort of Hurricane Sandy's victims. Honorably, he set up an auction of personally autographed tournament apparel to help raise funds for the cause, and supporters can follow this effort through periodic updates.
Gerald Swindle is not one to be upstaged, and his website is a testament to that fact. His homepage features a billboard-sized slideshow of high-quality images, each showing the G-Man in bold, striking poses.
Like his unique brand of humor, the site is entertaining and creative. There's "G-bay", where fans can purchase gear and clothing from his personalized collection. Plus some off-the-wall video clips well worth checking out. His sponsor page is nicely crafted with excellent shots of the key products he represents.
Another feature that I found interesting was "The Hit List" — a profile of his new reality TV series involving Swindle as a deer hunting expert. Included is a schedule of episodes with air times. Knowing how entertaining he is on the water, I'm sure his antics in a deer stand will also please.
Everything about Swindle's website is first rate. It's professionally constructed with high quality graphics, and it's easy to navigate. Like Swindle, it's entertaining and engaging.
Then there's my site, the idea for which came as a result of a television series I did for ESPN2. The series was called The Lure Collector, and it consisted of 13 five-minute episodes, all on antique fishing tackle. It aired on the weekends during the fishing block.
Because the series was so popular, I decided to create an online index of vintage fishing tackle so that fans of the show could learn more. Along with photos and descriptions, I try to provide some historical information.
Visitors will also find an archive of how-to articles featuring many of the sport's top pros with their best techniques. Most of these come from my days as a contributor to Bassmaster Magazine, when I authored a series called "Techniques Illustrated." It too, was popular, so I scanned some of the stories to make them available online.
Like many projects in my life, the site remains a work in progress. I have other additions planned, but with the tour and my columns demanding so much time, I'm not sure when and if I'll get to them.
Realizing that I've listed only a few of the many pro angler websites out there, why not follow up with your favorites. Using the comments feature below, let these guys know you're looking. And be sure to tell us what it is about each website that appeals to you.
Critical feedback is important, even for the most successful pro.