'I care about the future of our sport'

There’s a lot of upheaval in our sport right now and a lot of talk about expanding it and making it better. Everybody has an opinion, including me. 

I fish the Bassmaster Elite Series. I’ve won two tournaments including the 2015 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, and I’ve earned a reasonable amount of money given the short length of my career. But, that’s not what I want to talk about. It’s the farm system that B.A.S.S. has developed that matters the most to me and what I really want to highlight. 

When I was in high school I bass fished. I learned and I progressed. But, my learning curve would have been a lot easier, and a lot less painful, if there had been a bass fishing program at my school. Now, there are such programs and countless young men and women are benefiting from them. 

The same thing can be said about my college days. If the current college programs had been in place at the time, I might not have dropped out to pursue a professional career after I won a Bassmaster Western Open as a co-angler at the age of 21.

The thoughts I just expressed were driven home to me at the recent 2018 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship. 

On the final day my Marshal was a young man by the name of Cole Hopson. Having him in the boat was a fun experience, but it was also illuminating. He reminded me of myself at his age except that he has benefits available to him that I didn’t. 

Cole fished for his high school team and was planning on going to college and fishing with their team. He said he wanted a career as a professional angler at the Bassmaster Elite Series level and, of course, his dream was to win a Bassmaster Classic.

His high school experience better prepared him for college and that better prepared him for the Opens where he could qualify for the Elite Series. 

The only way that this sport will survive and thrive is by providing the farm system that Cole is able to use to better his skills. Pro anglers can’t do it by themselves. It has to come from the grassroots. B.A.S.S. is doing that.

At the same time I talk about climbing through the ranks, though, something else needs to be said about a good farm system. Not everyone who fishes in high school or college will go on to fish later in life. They may do something far removed from the outdoors. But, when political, economic or legislative issues arise they will have fond memories of their school experiences, and they’ll support us even if they aren’t actively fishing. We need that now, and we will need it in the future. 

I can honestly say that I wish all of that had been in place years ago — it would have saved me a lot pain and a lot of money — but I can also say that I’m glad it’s in place now, and I’m proud to be a part of it. I care about the future of our sport. 

Next time we’ll catch some bass.