Taking shortcuts to tournament success

Throughout my 25 years as a professional angler, I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go.

I’ve seen new technology show up in mapping and more detailed, sophisticated electronics. Boats are better, and lures and techniques have advanced and expanded.

While all of that had a big impact, nothing has had a bigger impact on competitive bass fishing than the amount of information and technological advances available to anglers today.

Tournament fields are more evenly talented than ever before. It’s hard for a veteran to distance himself from other anglers who have far less experience but are remarkably talented.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s on the Bassmaster Elite Series or lower-level tournament circuits, you really can’t separate the talent level. I’ve watched people fish low-level events during online broadcasts. I was completely unfamiliar with the anglers competing, but their skills, the way they carried themselves and decision-making process were all pro-level stuff.

In addition, the weights it takes to win these lower-level events are very similar to what it takes to win an Elite event on the same body of water.

I thought this year’s rookie crop from the Bassmaster Opens was exceptional, but next year’s group coming into the Elites will be no different.

How did this happen?

You have to look at the amount of instant information available to young anglers who are watching videos and live tournament broadcasts like Bassmaster LIVE.

These young anglers have had detailed information made available to them before they were old enough to drive. By the time they’re young teenagers, they have the knowledge and skills most of the older guys didn’t get until they were in their 30s.

This new generation of anglers soaked up a plethora of knowledge through social media postings, YouTube videos and live tournament broadcasts. They have seen — and studied — every technique demonstrated on shows like Bassmaster LIVE. Nothing is hidden from them; therefore years of learning through trial and error isn’t as big of a factor. They have a visual advantage that makes it easier to carry knowledge onto the water.

Couple that with amazing equipment, such as trolling motors that will hold you in place, detailed mapping and exemplary electronics that show you every detail on the bottom, around the boat and ahead of you.

I used to say Elite anglers were much better. I’m not so sure anymore.

Does access to immediate knowledge and technology make today’s angler that much better? The results sure show it has.

But if you take all of that away from them, can they go catch them?

These kids are sponges. Yet, without all the tools and knowledge at their fingertips, they wouldn’t be as good as they are at such a young age.

I’m not putting them down. I’m friends with these young guns on the Elites, and I’m amazed at their talents.

But I often wonder if the tools that got them there have diminished and deprived them of the mystique of our sport.

There is something to be said for the long learning process and journey that builds instincts and a deep love of the sport.

Hoisting that big blue trophy has a special meaning to those of us who learned the hard way. Will it mean the same to those whose rapid path to success was aided by modern-day tools?