Manners and class on the water

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Steve Bowman

Professional bass anglers owe their success to all of society, not just to the small percentage of its members who fish.

Not too long ago, I received a phone call telling me I was going to be inducted into the Class of 2022 Indiana Sports Hall of Fame. It seems that they’re adding a category — Field & Stream — to the organization.

Saying I’m honored is an understatement. It’s always nice to be recognized for your accomplishments. However, I’d like to think that my selection was about more than my ability to catch a fish, that it was about my life and how I live it.  

Now, I’m not saying I’m perfect or that I’m some kind of a wonderful person. I don’t claim to be either one of those things. But I have always tried to treat people the way I wanted to be treated. Generally speaking that has served me well. 

With that in mind I want to say a few words about what I’m seeing these days, and to offer some ideas about how we might change them. 

Being a bass fishing professional is about more than showing up at big tournaments, catching bass, talking about products and chasing checks. It’s about setting the right example when it comes to manners, making your family proud of you and showing those who don’t fish that we are decent and honorable men.

Recently I’ve noticed that there seems to be a premium on being brash, rude and discourteous, not so much in fishing as in our society in general. Those of us fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series, and anywhere else for that matter, need to be careful to avoid those things at all costs.  

We are easily identified with our wrapped boats and our jerseys. When we’re at the ramp — fun fishing or not — we need to make sure we’re respectful of everyone. That means no cutting in line, leaving our boat tied to limited dock space or taking over ramp lanes while we mess with our boats and tackle. 

I know that some anglers and boaters will cut us some slack because of who we are and what we have accomplished. But should we take advantage of that? I say no. We’re no better than anyone else. 

Another problem can be bragging about our skills, all the high-end equipment we have or all the fish we’ve caught that day. Maybe for a lot of us that is true information, but it doesn’t need to be said. Other anglers fish too. The fact that they may not be as good as us is beside the point. They have fun and take pride in what they have and what they’ve accomplished.

Something else we should always do is only work for sponsors that make quality products and that make them with integrity. It’s about believing in what we promote and passing along good information. Other anglers trust us when we talk about how to catch fish. Many of them are budgeting hard-earned money to buy what we tell them they should buy. It’s on us to help them make the right decisions.   

Our language matters too. We should avoid cursing and name calling. It offends some people, and we should avoid that at all costs. 

Here’s the thing: We owe our success to all of society, not just to the small percentage of its members who fish. It’s our responsibility to make it better on and off the water. The place to start doing that is by our conduct on and off the water. And, that’s not just when someone is looking. Real integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking or will ever know.