I've been credited for doing many things inside and outside the bass fishing world, but I can't take credit for the basic sense of community among bass anglers and their desire to be together. But I do proudly confess to promoting that desire.
The fact is there were fishing clubs long before I formed the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, and I credit two early BASS clubs in particular as very instrumental for its early success: the Tulsa Bass Club, which enthusiastically supported my first tournament at Beaver Lake, Ark., and the Chattanooga Bass Club, the first to affiliate with the Society.
From the beginning, I knew what made the clubs tick, and that's what I promised in the first promotions of the new BASS: fun, fellowship, sporting competition and last but not least, exchange of information. The incredible success of Bassmaster was built on that desire to learn more. And that desire was and is to share tips and tactics with fellow anglers all over the country. And today, all over the world.
I can't tell you how many times I have heard amateur anglers who gladly sit in the back of the boat at pro tour tournaments, say, "I just want to learn from the pros." A truly dedicated angler knows he can be a better fisherman by listening and observing. And there's no environment that provides such opportunity better than a bass club. So, I still wonder why so many bass fishermen are loners. Especially when they can gain so much in the company of others.
By now I hope you are all on board with me as I try to help grow BASS membership, specifically membership in the Federations. If you have a prospective member perched on the proverbial fence of decision making, let him or her read this column.
These are the facts: When you fish in a boat by yourself or with the same buddy week after week, you get in a rut. You're not going to learn much new, and worse, you may be making the same mistakes over and over.
But when those same anglers share with other partners in a BASS club setting, and especially in a club competition setting, they can't help but pick up new ideas and new techniques and tactics. And there's nothing more exciting or gratifying than discovering a new or better way to catch bass.
You might compare it to making a big pot of stew along with your club members. One guy adds his expertise with a particular angling skill, while another tosses in what he does best. Everyone adds an "ingredient." When it's finished, the stew is enjoyed by all the members. It's a recipe for better bass fishing.
Some of the best talent in bass fishing has been nourished by this particular recipe. The likes of Denny Brauer, Michael Iaconelli and the late Bryan Kerchal — all of them former Bassmaster World Champions — came from the Federation.
Brent Chapman, one of the hottest guns on the tour, still belongs to the Shawnee Mission Bassmasters in Kansas and attends meetings and fishes the club's tournaments when time permits. And he told me the reason why. This career touring pro still learns from being in the company of the most dedicated grass-roots anglers in the sport; his fellow BASS club members.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the BASS Federation Divisional level competition that you've read about in BASS Times. A divisional consists of a 12 man state team, with only one angler advancing to the BASS Federation Championship. Here's something I've observed in recent years: Sometimes more emphasis is placed on winning the state rather than the individual title.
I've heard about nightly meetings held in cramped motel rooms, where strategies are discussed, both successful and failed. One by one, a dozen anglers offer candid feedback about their day. There is no holding back. Pride is left by the wayside in favor of sharing knowledge for the benefit of the team.
As I said, only one guy in that room will advance to the next leve,l while the rest go home. But here's what's important. The 12 anglers are unselfish about sharing the information. This team spirit is unquestionably nourished by the BASS Federation environment. But it's also very smart, because the combined knowledge is so powerful.
And there you have a fundamental fact about BASS Federation membership: WE DO IT BETTER TOGETHER. We learn more and we fish better. Along with the fun, fellowship and competition I touted from the beginning, Federation members gain knowledge. Knowledge is priceless. Knowledge is power — the power to be a better bass fisherman.