Since I started covering Bassmaster Classics for B.A.S.S. from the water in 2010, I’ve always thought I had the greatest seat in the house. I was front-and-center for Beeswax Creek, Catouatche, Chris Lane’s winning fish and a variety of other historical moments. In recent years, however, the exclusivity of my position has decreased substantially. While I know the sounds and sights associated with one angler’s efforts, the rest of the bass fishing world has a more comprehensive view of the tournament.
That’s all because of Bassmaster LIVE.
Bassmaster LIVE hasn’t just changed the game for me. It’s changed it for everyone who gives a damn about tournament results and tournament tactics, from the casual fans to the anglers to the sponsors.
Use the 2022 Classic as an example. When Casey Ashley won at Hartwell in 2015, the weather was miserable, and it wasn’t anywhere close to glorious when Jordan Lee won in 2018, yet there were hordes of spectators all over the lake. In the first case, you could attribute that to the fact that Ashley was a hometown favorite, but that overlooks the fact that many other contenders from out of state had sizable galleries.
With that as a backdrop, I fully expected Hartwell to be overrun in this most recent Classic iteration, because the weather promised to be nothing short of glorious. Despite that, there were only small but respectful galleries on the lake. While I’m sure there were multiple reasons for that, I’d guess that the biggest was “LIVE.” You could learn just as much if not more while sitting at home and not have to burn expensive gasoline or put the boat away before hitting the Classic Expo.
That change is likely good for the anglers’ performance. I have heard some gripes, though. For one, it’s impossible to keep secrets – baits, locations, retrieves, strategies – any longer. At least one pro told me that he’s sure another angler showed up in his areas the next year because he watched and rewatched LIVE like the Zapruder film to figure out where he’d been fishing.
There’s also the matter of tackle secrets – as in, there are none. In the past, you could claim that you’d used a sponsor’s product when you’d actually utilized a competitor’s, and most of the time you’d get away with it. Those days are out the window. Of course, if you’re using products that you promote it’s less of a problem.
That’s always been the yin and yang of professional angling – the desire to promote while also keeping the best stuff a secret. Either way, there’s no hiding anything anymore. That just increases the learning curve of your competitors, as well as weekend anglers, a process that has already grown exponentially in recent years.
I’m sure having a live camera in the boat also works as a motivator for some while freaking others out. That’s always been the case, though. There have been cameras in the boats for years, albeit not necessarily live ones.
For those of us enamored of the game, LIVE likewise causes minor problems. Remember those old stats about how many hours of productivity NCAA March Madness cost employers across the country? Well, we’re not at that scale, but there are certainly some workers giving less-than-full effort on days the Bassmaster Elite Series is running.
What’s crazy about it to me is that I’d always assumed that fishing could not be televised. After all, the guy who wins the tournament may only have five bites in an eight-hour day. What’s fun about that? Yet the hardest thing about Bassmaster LIVE is turning it off. Mark Zona, Tommy Sanders, Ronnie Moore and the crew do such an exceptional job of keeping it fresh, and cutting away to the right angler at the right time, that any time you turn it off you’re likely to miss something epic.
Sometimes, it’s the non-professional commentators who have the biggest impact. The team has done a great job of bringing in anglers who failed to make the cut and asking them to comment on what they’re seeing. Sometimes that makes for unlikely pairings – it was brilliant at Santee Cooper Lakes to watch Jason Christie and Matty Wong, who as far as I know were mostly unacquainted, discussing the derby. We got to see how two anglers with very different career progressions interpreted the same information and interfaced with one another.
Then I was awed watching Brad Whatley and Darold Gleason discussing Brandon Palaniuk’s tactics and seeing what they’d missed. How many times have you heard an angler after an event say something like this? “I was in the right area and I just approached it wrong,” or “I practiced in the winning spot but didn’t catch anything.” Now you can see those realizations in real time. It’s illuminating and heartbreaking at the same time to see how narrow the gap is between a Top 10 and a bottom 40.
Once you measure anything – and that’s what LIVE is, a measure of our history – you can’t help but impact that thing in some way. What the LIVE team has done is to push and push and push so, without forcing anything, the cream naturally rises to the top. That means anglers, products and coverage, all of them.
I wouldn’t trade my on-the-water blogging position for anything, but we’ve come to a point where I need to start watching LIVE while I type.