A generation ago, it was possible to keep a lure or an entire technique secret for months or even years. These days, if you’re doing well in tournaments you’re lucky to have something to yourself until the end of the day. With GoPro cameras, the Internet, television and powerful zoom lenses, everything is on display for the world to see just about as soon as it happens.
Our marshals blog throughout the day and photographers like James Overstreet and Seigo Saito send in midday galleries. At some tournaments, we even have drones buzzing our heads as we cast. Clearly, the information superhighway has come to the world of tournament fishing, and with the technology available today, the fans can rightfully demand more and more.
The immediacy of the information puts some anglers in a difficult spot. Not only can’t you keep your locations and lures from your competitors, but it’s also tougher to convince the fans that you’re using your sponsors’ products if you’re using something else. We can all cite situations where pros said they were using one thing and the TV cameras showed that they were using something else. It’s no longer even worth it to try that, because in this day and age, not only can they tell what color lizard you were using, but whether you were dyeing the tail, and how far up the tail you went with the dye. Forget about telling them you were using your sponsor’s jerkbait when in reality you were catching them on a competitor’s lipless crankbait.
For some of us, that doesn’t create a problem. Kevin VanDam, for instance, can probably find everything he needs in the Strike King catalog. If they don’t already make it, he can request it, and they’ll have it ready for his use a short time later. Similarly, I can honestly say that the vast majority of the time I’m using my sponsors’ products. Of course there’s still a small percentage of products that I need that they don’t produce, so I have to go elsewhere, but that doesn’t occur nearly as often as it used to. That’s a major shift. Early in my career, when I was less established and less financially secure, I was sponsored by companies that didn’t make the highest caliber products. I can admit it now, but at the time, it put me in a bit of a fix.
There are pros now who are in that same boat – they need whatever deals they can get just to survive, so they’ll push their ethics (for lack of a better word) to the side and promote stuff they don’t believe is the best out there. They might not even use it. Do I think it results in a credibility gap? Of course. At the same time, I can’t necessarily fault someone who has sacrificed everything they had to make just a single cast on the Elite Series if they’re not telling the truth 100 percent of the time. Reading that again, it doesn’t sound great, but I’m really not sure that there’s a right or a wrong answer in this situation.
Overall, the members of the media do a pretty good job of letting us tell our stories in a way that maximizes truthfulness while also educating the fans. For example, Mark Zona and Tommy Sanders work hard to tell the fans what actually happened, but they’re not The National Enquirer or TMZ. They’re not digging for dirt. They’re trying to help you promote your sponsors when it’s reasonable to do so. That’s their balancing act. Our balancing act is to avoid telling Bassmaster or BassFan something that’s an absolute bald-faced lie. That makes us look bad, and it makes them look bad. It makes them less likely to give you that love in the future, and that’s what we all really depend on.
The truth of the matter is that we’re all on a pretty short leash. It’s obvious in the industry who is shameless about stretching the truth. It’s also obvious who jumps around according to the greatest short-term financial opportunity – if a guy has five rod sponsors in five years, it’s pretty hard to take him seriously.
As I said above, I’m glad that my sponsors make almost all of the products that I use on a day-to-day basis. That makes it easy for me to tell the truth. The part that’s just as important is the fact that none of them have ever encouraged me to say anything but the truth. I know that other guys out there are told to say they were using “Brand X” when “Brand Y” is what helped them put their fish in the boat. That puts the angler in a terrible position, especially when you’re depending on each and every penny.
I also know that if there’s something that I need but that my sponsors don’t make, they’ll make every reasonable effort to get it in their lineup. I owe them my honesty, and they owe me an opportunity where I’m never tempted to say anything but the truth. It sounds black and white, and it should be, but lots of pros live in a somewhat grayer reality.