I want to take this opportunity to share with you some of my observations from the 2009 Bassmaster Classic and to tell you what I think they say about the sport of bass fishing.
1. The number of people attending the Classic was overwhelming.
There were so many people at the weigh-in that several thousand had to be turned away each day. The ones who got in had to wait in line for hours before the doors opened. That says something about the popularity of our Classic.
The situation at the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick's Sporting Goods was much the same. I was there on Sunday signing autographs. It was nonstop all day long. We held a drawing for various prizes, including my Nitro. You had to be present to win. The smaller prizes were given away first. Of the first 10 names I drew, only one person wasn't there. That tells me people weren't just signing up. They were serious.
And when it came time to give away my Nitro boat — the one I fished the Classic in, the crowd was estimated at 10,000. I can believe that. There was nothing but a sea of people that started at the boat and ended somewhere in the back, out of sight.
I was also struck by how far some of the attendees traveled to visit the Classic. Several were from over a thousand miles away. You see that at every Classic, but this year there seemed to be more than usual.
2. The enthusiasm at the Classic was electric.
Hundreds of fans approached every pro on the floor Sunday wanting an autograph, a photograph, some fishing advice or just an opportunity to talk.
I was also impressed with the number of young anglers I met who are looking toward a career as a professional bass angler. And they weren't just talking, either. It was obvious to me that they had done their homework. They knew bass fishing. If that's an indication of the strength of our sport — and I believe it is — we're in good shape.
What I'm trying to say is that the crowd wasn't there just so they had a place to go. They were there because the Bassmaster Classic is the biggest bass fishing show there is. They're serious about our sport and care about it deeply.
3. The crowds were diverse.
This wasn't a crowd of fathers and sons. Whole families were there — moms and little girls as well as dads and little boys. That was gratifying because it tells me our fan base is increasing. Fishing is becoming a family affair.
It's a trend I've been noticing for some time. (A lot of the other Elite Series pros have commented on it, too.) But I think this year's WBT Champion, Kim Bain-Moore, competing in the Classic really spurred it on. It showed women that fishing's not just a guy thing.
That's important for our long-term survival. We need to get everyone involved, not just the guys. Fishing and related outdoor activities must be family supported. That not only makes fishing stronger, it makes the family stronger. The benefits of that are obvious.
4. Immediately after the Classic I made a number of appearances at Bass Pro Shops in Michigan and Ohio in connection with their Spring Fishing Classics.
(And, in case you aren't aware of it, they also have a joint venture in place with BASS that should really help the sport of bass fishing.) Again, the crowds were huge and enthusiastic.
From what I could see the attendees were buying products and taking advantage of the sales and special pricing that was offered. Good deals aren't limited to just the Bass Pro Shops, though. Check out your favorite tackle shop or online retailer for more of them. In many cases last year's inventory is selling at clearance prices and even some of this year's products are being offered at bargain basement rates.
Their desire to go fishing was obvious. It's all they talked about — all they wanted to talk about after a long winter. That means that despite our troubled economy, the demand for fishing is strong. So long as that remains the case our sport will be in good shape.
Of course, that's the way it should be. Fishing's a great way to relax and spend high-quality time with friends and family. You can do it close to home on a tight budget. There are very few things that fall into that category.
Based on what I saw in Shreveport-Bossier City and what I'm seeing as I travel around the country, bass fishing's the real deal. Of that, I'm confident. It's all about the attitude.