A modest plan turned into a monster for Bassmaster Elite Series pro Matt Robertson.
More than a month ago, Robertson put into motion his idea to host a fun one-day fishing tournament, complete with a get-together that night where competitors can rub elbows with him. The twist was there would be no entry fee.
In somewhat of a genius marketing move, Robertson stipulated competitors simply have to wear an item from his signature line of On ‘Em hats and shirts.
“It kind of blew up,” Robertson said. “I expected 50 to 75 boats, just a fun litttle tournament. It turned into something unimaginable. I never thought we’d have a full field.
“It’s crazy. I’ve got my plate full now.”
There will be 250 boats for the first On ‘Em tournament Dec. 16 on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell, with a guaranteed first-place purse of $2,000 and a boatload of prizes from Robertson’s sponsors. Robertson plans to emcee the weigh-in at Hartwell’s Green Pond Landing, the launch site of previous Bassmaster Classics.
“We had to cap it at 250 boats because we don’t have enough daylight,” said Robertson, adding single and two-man teams will fish from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. “I’d love to run it later — I think we’d get 400.
“There’s going to be an after party at AJ’s Bar and Grill off Clemson Blvd. It’s a big place. They have good food. There’ll be a live band. Ten percent of those proceeds we’re going to donate to high school bass fishermen.”
The idea came to Robertson sometime in October. He has been in the Carolinas a lot lately, fishing and hanging out with his friend who runs The Wood Shop, a custom cabinet maker who is co-sponsoring the event. He thought the time and area were ripe.
“I know in the past people have done tournaments like this,” he said. “I thought in December, we don’t have a lot going on. I thought for a turnout, Lake Hartwell and Green Pond Landing was probably the best bet. I know a lot of people fish here in the wintertime.”
So Robertson called up Neil Paul, who heads Anderson County’s tourism. The supporter of bass fishing, Paul thought Robertson’s idea would fly. With the date open, Paul helped secure the venue and permits, and he even entered.
Promoting it through his social media platforms, Robertson got positive feedback immediately. He was sure anglers from the region’s numerous fisheries might make the short drive, but he’s getting folks from far and wide.
“Why are people coming from New York?” he wondered. “I’ve got someone signed up from Alaska. I know they ain’t driving.
“I guess people are just excited to come out, meet me. We’re going to tailgate in the parking lot a little bit, mingle. I think it’s an opportunity for all these people to hang out with me and others and have a good time.”
Jacob Powroznik told Robertson he plans to be there, and Robertson hopes to entice other Elites to come out. As for weighing the five-fish limits, he secured Dave Stout, who runs the 5 Alive tournament circuit, to be weighmaster.
“He’s accustomed to putting on decent-sized tournaments,” said Robertson, who’s learning the ropes as he goes. “There is a lot more logistics that goes into it. I’ve been working my tail off.”
Getting sponsors on board hasn’t been that hard, he said. After telling them his plan, most asked what he needed and offered up items. There will be a big fish payout, and anglers can participate in a $60 side pot. Prizes based on finishes include four Mossberg firearms.
“Boss Shotshells gave me a bunch of money for the purse, and they’re giving away a bunch of shells,” he said. “Dakota Lithium gave me a couple 36-volt batteries to give away and a bunch of apparel.”
Ugly Stik and Berkely ponied up rods and tackle, while Drake Performance Fishing donated coffee cups and apparel.
“I’ve seen other professionals tagged in the comments saying they should do something like this,” Robertson said. “I’ve talked to Chris and Cory Johnston. They were asking me a lot of details, what all it took. I think they’re thinking about doing one in Canada. I hope other anglers do take the idea.”
Several Elites have gotten behind tournaments, including Mike Iaconelli, Keith Combs, John Crews and Brandon Card. Combs held his 7th annual Sam Rayburn Slam in September, teaming up with Bass Fishing Hall of Famer Jay Yelas and his C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation.
Card will be hosting his 8th College and High School Bass Open on Tennessee’s Norris Lake on Dec. 2.
Although admitting there could be some hiccups, Robertson said he hopes all runs well and he’s On ‘Em again soon.