Crowds, our sport and the Bassmaster Classic

New York is a great place to fish, especially in bass tournaments.

The 2019 Berkley Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River presented by Black Velvet and the 2019 SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake produced some amazing crowds and many enthusiastic fans. 

When we weren’t fishing, it was plenty of photos and autograph signing. That makes for a lot of off-the-water fun.  

Waddington, N.Y., site of the St. Lawrence River event, has always offered up big crowds. This year we had more than 27,000 fans out enjoying the weigh-in. It was great to see all those people checking out those big bass!

When we moved on to Union Springs and the Cayuga event, I didn’t expect crowds as big as Waddington’s, but I did expect good ones. Even with that thought in mind, though, I was surprised by the size of the crowds. I didn’t see the exact numbers, but I can say that the crowds looked bigger than in past years.

I finished 41st and 27th, respectively in the two events. One bad day in the first one cost me two good events. Nevertheless, I’m putting both of them in the awesome category. There’s nothing like competing in front of a huge group of fans that are passionate about the same thing as me.  

The crowds are especially noteworthy when you think about bass fishing. It’s not a spectator sport as much as it’s a participation sport. Most of the fans do the same thing we do except that they don’t do it for a living. There are many great amateur anglers out there. There are a number out there with the talent to compete on the Elite Series but don’t or can’t make the commitment. Our great sport is unique in that respect. 

My own career makes the point. I started fishing in local team tournaments when I was a kid and then, shortly thereafter, in a bass club. We fished the same five-fish limit that the pros did, and we fished the same hours, too. Heck, we even fished the same waters. We had club events on the Potomac River, the James River, Lake Gaston, and Buggs Island, all places that have hosted B.A.S.S. events. 

We were into it so deep in my club, the Sandy River Bassmasters, that we referred to each other by the name of the pros we resembled, or by the way we fished. It was great. It sounds crazy to say that now but I loved those days. I smile every time I think about them. 

Over the years I worked my way up to the Elites. I’m fortunate in that respect. I have seen our sport from both sides. It’s surreal when I stop to think about it.  

And now I’m looking at fishing my 12th Bassmaster Classic, the 50th. But my berth is not guaranteed. My focus is on the two tournaments left — the 2019 Cherokee Casino Tahlequah Bassmaster Elite at Fort Gibson Lake and the 2019 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship. I’m sitting in 21st place in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race right now. If I do my job in the next two events, I’ll make it. 

I’ve never been more motivated.