Celebrating devotion

Expo visitors literally packed the Knoxville Convention Center hallways before the event officially opened.

I go to a lot of sporting events. My daughter attends the University of Alabama (Roll Tide), so the football games are a great time to catch up. In my hometown of Birmingham, Ala., there is a minor-league baseball team (the Barons), a minor-league hockey team (the Bulls) and my stepdaughter plays lacrosse on her high school squad. As I sit in the stands to watch these games unfold (and no, I do not understand the rules of lacrosse), my half of the stands cheer not only for, but against, the opposing team and its throng of supporters. As I think about it, that is the way every sport works. Well, every sport except bass fishing. As I sat in the stands at the recent GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, I realized why bass fishing fans are simply a different breed.

The 153,000 fishermen that infested Knoxville, Tenn., to watch the Classic didn’t root against anybody. They cheered for big fish and any angler that solved the puzzle to put five giant Tennessee River bass in his livewell to display on the grandest stage in sportfishing. Sure, fans have their favorite anglers and root for them. However, they cheer just as loud for a competitor they may have never heard of before if he lifts 20 pounds to the scales. B.A.S.S. fans respect pros who are exceptional at finding and catching fish, but are devoted to the sport, devoted to that green fish and its pursuit. You’ll not go to a NBA game and run into many fans who really don’t care who wins, but arrived just to see great basketball. But go to an Elite Series event and almost everyone in attendance is staring wide-eyed at the stage to see how the best anglers in the world fared against the fish. They are there simply to see the results of great fishing. B.A.S.S. fanatics have a relationship with the platform that allows them to be a part of the process. To me, this makes Bassmaster fans the purest sporting enthusiasts on the planet, and that should be celebrated.

So, celebrate we shall! After the amazing show of support in Knoxville, B.A.S.S. announced that 2019 would be “The Year of the Fan.” This effort will celebrate the true heroes of bass fishing: the everyday anglers, the heartbeat of the fishing industry.

If you’d like to take part in this celebration of you, it is simple. First, go fishing. You may get a surprise. B.A.S.S. staff, as well as Elite Series anglers from across the country, will be randomly thanking fans. You may be at a boat ramp, a tackle shop, an Elite Series event or pumping gas when someone comes up and shakes your hand, perhaps offering a gift.

Secondly, go to an Elite Series event and you will be showered with gifts. Mercury Marine is launching a free concert series starting at the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest on Lake Fork to give fans the gift of music. All the B.A.S.S. sponsors have games and giveaways for fans at the Elite venues.

Fans will also be the focus of camera lenses for Bassmaster photographers and videographers. Flip to our parting shot on page 74 of the May issue of Bassmaster Magazine. You may well see yourself in the pages of this magazine in the near future. Visit Bassmaster.com and take a gander at the fan photo galleries that have already been published. And, look for videos and stories about fans on the website. We will be flip-flopping how we get content. Elite Series pros will actually be interviewing fans for boat tours and fishing tips. All of you have a story to tell, and we want to tell it.

This celebration will climax at the 50th anniversary of the Bassmaster Classic. See Dave Precht’s column on page 76 of the May issue to read about the details of this monumental event. As the year pro­gresses, more details about The Year of the Fan will surface on Bassmaster.com.

I look forward to thanking as many Bassmaster fans as possible. And after we talk fishing, if one of you happens to understand the rules of lacrosse … I’m all ears.