The future of bass fishing coverage

Thirty years ago, if you wanted to get the skinny on how a B.A.S.S. event unfolded, you typically had to wait for the next issue of Bassmaster Magazine to arrive. 

A little bit less than 20 years ago, when I had Internet access in my office and one of my close friends did not, I used to get the tournament results in the morning via a painfully slow and often unreliable connection and then fax them to his office so that he could see them. I still remember waiting for the verification report and then his inevitable call to discuss.

A little more than a decade ago, the Internet took over, and we began to expect detailed daily updates.

About five years ago, B.A.S.S. started experimenting with the live blog, and “here and now” coverage became the expected norm.

Now there are BassCams and GoPros and bloggers and drones and of course BASSTrakk. If you can’t keep up with what’s happening on the water – as it happens – and you have cell phone coverage, then you have no excuse.

Watch them live

B.A.S.S. further upped the ante at this year’s Classic when a group of anglers had their performances live-streamed for anyone to see in real time. As B.A.S.S. co-owner Jerry McKinnis wrote shortly after Casey Ashley hoisted the trophy, it was a big moment for the sport, and a long time coming. This year, when they “flipped the switch,” they had cameras capable of providing live coverage focused on Ashley, Dean Rojas, Randy Howell and Michael Iaconelli.

If technology continues to progress and the prices decrease, I’m sure the day is coming where they’ll be able to have such a feed on every angler in a Top 12, or perhaps even every Classic competitor. You’ll be able to log on, pick an angler and watch his day unfold. Or maybe you’ll watch two or three at the same time, or toggle back and forth among a bunch of them. At some point, there may be multiple cameras on each angler, much as a single play in an NFL game can be rewatched from multiple vantage points.

So far the focus on this phenomenon seems to have been exclusively positive – the sole complaint has been: “We want more and we want it now.” It has been viewed through the lens of what this technological breakthrough can provide to the fan. Of course, the entertainment value is the driver behind this push. Furthermore, there will be value insofar as it keeps the anglers honest about what they’re using. But as far as I can tell, no one has really talked or written about what it will mean to the anglers themselves.

Once the technology becomes more widely-used, B.A.S.S. will have in their possession thousands of hours of footage of the best anglers in the world plying their trade. If they make that archive public, it will provide the greatest teaching tool our sport has ever known. For weekend anglers like me, we’ll be able to study how our favorite pros pick apart cover, choose their casting angles, and work fish out of dense cover. The pros themselves will be able to study film the way a middle linebacker studies an opposing QB’s tendencies, or the way a center fielder in the midst of a slump tries to look for a hitch in his swing. Are you losing fish halfway to the boat? There might be an obvious mechanical glitch in your fighting technique. Only hooking half of your dropshot strikes? It might be as simple as seeing that your rod doesn’t load up the same way as AMart’s. I’m not saying that you’ll someday have a swing coach like a pro golfer, but it’s not as farfetched as it immediately sounds.

Mining statistics

Just as importantly, for the first time we’ll have access to the amount of data necessary to provide meaningful statistical analysis. Starting with the publicity surrounding Moneyball, Michael Lewis’ book about Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane, every major sport has undergone a statistical revolution. It’s not an exact science by any means, and I suspect that in bass fishing it will be less exact that in other major sports, but the possibilities are endless. Combined with the info found in BASSTrakk, we’ll know all sorts of things that defy simple numbers.

When I was a kid, we defined a good hitter on the basis of three categories: batting average, home runs and RBIs. Those had some meaning, but only in a vacuum. Did they account for the ballpark that a slugger played in? The quality of the lineup around him? How do you account for the fact that all of his home runs came when the bases were empty and that he hit a buck-oh-five with no dingers when the there were men on base? Similarly, we measured basketball players by their numbers of points, rebounds and/or assists. If someone scored 20-plus points a game, we thought he was a star. So what if he jacked up 50 shots a game, didn’t play defense, never passed and generally made his team worse? While the eggheads may not agree on what all of those factors mean, at least they’re being considered now.

Off the top of my head I think in the near future we’ll be able to answer questions about the Elite Series pros like:

  • Who catches fish early but struggles in the last hour of the day?
  • Who catches fish when he has an area to himself but is below average when fishing in a crowd?
  • Who is best able to take advantage of power generation schedules?
  • Who is good at following the tide and who is best at camping in a good area and fishing through the “bad” tides?

I’m sure that doesn’t even scratch the surface of this technology’s potential. For the nerds and semi-mathletes among us, these are exciting times. Our sport is changing, and the growth is exponential rather than linear.

In recent years we’ve seen tremendous growth in college fishing, with schools like Auburn and University of Louisiana at Monroe sending students to the Bassmaster Classic. Fifty years from now, however, it might be brain factories like MIT that have the biggest impact on how the sport is played.