Looking back at the inaugural BASSFest on Lake Chickamauga, I have to say I left Dayton, Tenn., feeling pretty good about it. I’d like to have fished that last day, but overall I’m happy to participate in what I consider a very successful event.
Because this was the first year B.A.S.S. held this event, it might have been tough to predict how the public would respond, but from everything I witnessed, the fans obviously realized that the organization devoted a ton of effort and attention directly toward them.
The best way I can describe BASSFest is like a mini Bassmaster Classic. I think it’s that way for the fans and the anglers, but the biggest difference between the two is the season. The Classic is held in early spring when the weather is much cooler and everything except the actual fishing is held indoors.
BASSfest took place in the summer when fans could hang out and see all the cool stuff that the sponsors had to offer. It had a higher level of excitement than normal Elite Series events because there was more hype.
If someone drove down the lake, they might have thought it looked like a Classic. Every boat had several spectators and some had 30-50 boats. That’s stressful because you have to navigate around all those boats, but it brings up the level of excitement and that gets you fired up.
I think all this led to a higher level of participation. I know that on the third day (Second Chance Day) when all of us in the Top-50 hung out and signed autographs, we had fans visiting with us all day long. It was just incredible and I really had a great time meeting all those great folks and talking about fishing.
My personal favorite part of this event were the weigh-in crowds. You’re standing in line backstage with your fish, and can’t really see the crowd. But then you get up there and it’s like “Oh my goodness, there’s a lot of people here.”
Another interesting point was the tournament format. With there being no points involved, we saw anglers fishing differently than they would in a normal Elite Series event. There’s only one place we were fishing for and that was first, so the more aggressive style of fishing probably made this more entertaining for fans.
In my case, I was confident that the tournament would be won 100 percent offshore, so I never made a cast in shallow water. There were some fish caught shallow, but I did what I thought would give me my best opportunity to win. I stayed totally committed to deep water wasn’t tempted to go to the bank and fish for points.
One of the reasons BASSFest was so successful is that Chickamauga was just a great choice of venue. It’s in an area where people know fishing and I could tell that by the kinds of serious questions that a lot of folks asked me during the event.
Also, the fans were very respectful on and off the water. The way they treated us was second-to-none.
There were not many people fishing, but when they did, if one of us competitors came up, they gave us whatever area we wanted. They don’t have to do that – it’s public water, but that kind of classy treatment is greatly appreciated by all of us anglers.
Now, the really great thing about BASSFest is that it opened our minds to what is yet to come in this industry. I’m personally very enthusiastic about what we can do down the road to continue engaging fans and promoting this sport.
I see that given a great lake, a great location and great weather – people will come. I think we’re making steps in the right direction on where the sport can go.
I keep going back to this point about the fans, but BASSFest provided a great example of how you earn their respect – you get involved with them on a personal level where a fan can come up to you and talk to you one-on-one.
A bass fisherman is a bass fisherman, whether he’s an Elite pro or a weekend fisherman. Once you break down that barrier, the respect goes both ways and you have a fan not only of the angler, but of the sport forever.
From my perspective, there were no negatives to BASSFest. However, if there’s anything that I’d change it would be this: A couple of times I’d be walking back to my boat and I’d look over and see a group of kids kind of sheepishly looking at me; maybe wondering if they should come up and talk to me. I’d motion for them to come over and we had a nice time talking about bass fishing.
So here’s my message to fans of BASSFest and any other Bassmaster event: Don’t be shy. You come up and talk to me anytime you want. That’s why I do what I do.
I love bass fishing and I love talking to other folks who like it too.