Seeing into the past

I just finished reading Pete Robbins’ column, “Seeing into the future.” As always, Pete gives us incredible insight into bass fishing, going down a path few people ever venture. Their depthfinder doesn’t read that deep. That’s why I love me some Pete.

In his latest piece, Robbins tells us why Dean Rojas and his 2001 sight fishing record on Lake Toho ushered in a new era in the world of bass fishing. Rojas, according to Pete, showed everyone just how productive and important sight fishing really is in the world of competition.

His point: If there are fish on the beds, the whole field better be looking at them or face the reality of getting left in the dust of big old sow bass and huge bags. It’s a legitimate line of thought: Dean Rojas opened sightless-fishing eyes everywhere.

There are, however, other things to consider. Sight fishing has certainly become more of a mainstream part of competitive angling in the last decade or so. And while Rojas certainly kicked it into high gear, I would contend there are other factors equally as important.

Back in the day, Shaw Grigsby and Guido Hibdon were the kings of flipping a tube into a bed and stroking out a big sack of bass. They were so good at it that most folks just accepted that one or both were going to be at the top of the heap by the end of the event. Everyone knew sight fishing was viable. My first introduction was with Bob Cobb on a Bassmaster show in the mid 1980s.

Grigsby and Hibdon were and remain much respected in that regard. Grigsby, who has won nine Bassmaster events, captured eight of those titles sight fishing. His latest was in 2011. His first win was in 1988 and his seventh in January 2000, exactly a year prior to Rojas’ record. That’s actually a pretty incredible statistic.

It wasn’t a secret, either. Sight fishing suffered some setbacks in those early days when some less-than-ethical anglers would occasionally snag a fish from the bed. Rules were changed creating the verification of a hook in the mouth to take care of that.

There was actually some clamor on whether snagging should be allowed in competition. Can anyone remember the Alabama rig furor?

After that, sight fishing, when it actually lined up with the schedule (which it didn’t always), was a big part of the game. Although Pete Robbins is correct in his assertion that not everyone played that part of the game.

Even with that, I wouldn’t place Grigsby or Rojas as the only tipping points for launching sight fishing.

Instead, credit belongs equally to a throng of long forgotten names and faces, the co-anglers that became the norm and then the non-fishing Marshals of today.

Again, back in the day, things were done a lot different. Not many young anglers of today are familiar with the draw format. That was when each day you were paired with another competing professional and you shared water and/or the front of the boat.

We weren’t as polished back then as we are now. While the hunger to win was huge, a sight fisherman didn’t necessarily want to take a guy to a bedding fish where both only had a 50 percent chance of catching it.

Imagine Dean Rojas and Shaw Grigsby paired together on that fateful day on Lake Toho in 2001. Chances are we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Likewise, as Pete Robbins contends, some folks weren’t good at it.  There was more than one invitation made from one angler to the other to “go to the bank and settle it.” Those came mostly came from an unhappy professional either stuck in the back of the boat watching or totally opposed to sight fishing (remember the decisiveness of the Alabama rig?).

Only those completely respected anglers like Shaw and Guido, along with a few others, escaped that kind or ire.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Pro-Ams were an anomaly, mostly used in the MegaBucks or Bassmaster Top 100 formats, of which there was, on average, one a year. When Pro-Ams became the standard and a professional received complete control of the boat, that’s when the real sight fishing era began.

Pete Robbins is correct; there have been pivotal anglers throughout the history of B.A.S.S. During the course of the last decade, the roll call of those tipping-point guys has grown, and Rojas is certainly part of that.

However, the depth of skills for today’s angler (comparatively in another stratosphere from 15 years ago) along with the competitive level of the Elite Series (equally in another stratosphere to anything out there) has more to do with co-anglers and Marshals than any one angler.

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