PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — As B.A.S.S. owner Jerry McKinnis crawled all over a demo Skeeter bass boat in the Elite Series Expo area, he explained to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett the purpose of a trolling motor, displayed the boat’s ample storage space and showed off the space age electronics. Nevertheless, he saved the best for last, popping open the livewell lids and closing with a discussion of how technology and a catch and release ethic benefit local fisheries.
“Our biggest impact is what we leave behind,” McKinnis explained. He meant the economic impact that B.A.S.S. brings to cities in recurring revenues like tourist dollars, but he might as well have been talking about the benefits that bass fishing can offer to the next generation.
The Elite Series tournament on the Delaware River was the first in the tour’s history to be presented and largely run by a youth group. Todd Pride, the host city coordinator, is the Managing Director of the Mid-Atlantic Youth Anglers, a group aimed largely at educating urban children about the joy and benefits of recreational fishing. They’ve gotten more than 7,000 kids on the water in the past five years.
“In a simple sense, it enhances their education,” he said. “They learn that you’re not just there with a line in the water, waiting for a fish to come. You need to elevate your knowledge to be successful. A lot of these pros, if they aren’t already, could have engineering degrees. They have to understand about science and technology and the environment. This tournament this week is like the NFL of bass fishing, and we want to participate in opening up urban markets.”
In an event that brought many notable celebrities to the Philadelphia waterfront – in addition to Corbett, Philly mayor Michael Nutter and Cy Young winner Roy Halladay joined the festivities – Pride’s kids, including the Penn State University bass team, proved to be the real stars. They shuttled anglers back and forth from boats to the weigh-in, they helped with fish care, and they offered up their knowledge to the Governor, explaining their favorite lures, fishing techniques and fishing locations. In a true reversal of the typical information flow, youth took center stage in one of the country’s oldest major cities. These kids knew how to get the job done, as they’ve already brought their parents onboard to make the program work.
“Half of our training, if not more, is with the parents,” Pride said. “It’s a bottleneck when they don’t know how to help their kids, so we need to train them, too. We’re constantly expanding and it really means something when we can host an event like this. This is our home base.”
Corbett attended the 2005 Bassmaster Classic in Pittsburgh when he served as Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, but as Governor he was even better able to appreciate what something like this means to his state, to the local economy and to the highlighted ecosystem.
“We’re glad you’re here,” he said to McKinnis. “It’s great that you can come to a metropolitan city like this as well as to a smaller city like Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania probably has more sportsmen than just about any state in the entire country. There are areas in our state that you’d think were in Tennessee or Arkansas, too. This event is as much about fishing as it is about the cleanup of our rivers. We’ve been cleaning up for a long time and events like this are the result of that.”
At the Expo, he was introduced to Elite Series pros 2012 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Brent Chapman, Hank Cherry and Josh Bertrand. After Chapman complimented the Philly cheesesteaks he’d eaten this week and Corbett reciprocated with praise for the Kansas City barbecue he’d sampled over the years, they both engaged in a little bit of good-natured bragging about their states’ deer hunting.
“This is not a run-of-the-mill event for this city,” McKinnis concluded. “The reason we came here was to touch people we have not touched before. Our sport is still so young.”
In a city overflowing with colonial-era history, you might think that McKinnis and Corbett, leading icons of their respective professions, would be the center of attention. For one week, however, they saw a still-young sport give new life to a resuscitated river system, guided by the next generation’s keepers of the flame.