Professional bass fishing in general – and the Bassmaster Elite Series in particular – has become more competitive than ever in the past few years. Remember the good old days when a small limit in the livewell every day got you paid? Those times are over. You only need to look at an event like this year’s derby on the St. Lawrence to see how true that is. On Day 1, it took an even 18 pounds to crack the top 50. Can you imagine being one of the eight guys who topped 17 pounds and still sat outside the money cut?
Just a few seasons back it would’ve been inconceivable. Given the evolution of abilities, it would be easy to assume that all of these hammers are mindless automatons. That’s why all three of my favorite memories from the 2017 season hinge on demonstrations of a “love of the game.” At the Elite level, if you don’t cherish the sport and constantly want to improve, you’re effectively road kill.
The first eye-popper came at the season opener on Cherokee, where the full field faced frigid conditions and every one of them seemed to know about the Damiki Rig. I write about this stuff for a living, and I imbibe just about any piece of information that I can get about new tactics and tackle, and I had never heard of the Damiki Rig. It just goes to show that we’re still in an age of innovation – every time you think there’s nothing left to write or learn about, a Senko or Chatterbait or Alabama Rig or Damiki Rig hits the market.
My second most memorable moment took place over two tournaments – the Conroe Classic and the Elite event on Dardanelle. Steve Kennedy finished second in the Classic and first at Russellville, but both times the footage of him slinging his swim jig was amazing. If you were an expert angler who’d never heard of the Elite Series, you’d probably be horrified by the way Steve acts, mugging for the camera, leading fish around for long periods of time, smiling and giggling rather than “taking it seriously.” But anyone who has followed the sport knows that despite his quirks Kennedy gets the big picture and wins. Watching him enjoy those swim jig fish was no different than watching him successfully learning the swimbait game a decade earlier at Clear Lake. In both cases, you would’ve thought each fish was the first bass he’d ever caught.
Finally, I can’t help but recall watching the Bassmaster LIVE coverage of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship at Mille Lacs, and in particular Skeet Reese sitting on one point whacking one big smallmouth after another on a variety of baits en route to a third-place finish and a Classic berth. It was a dream scenario for any angler, and he was accomplishing it in a tournament with career implications. Meanwhile, I was going musky fishing at St. Clair and had to leave for the airport for my flight to Detroit, but I couldn’t tear myself away from the screen. It was such an incredible moment and every second of it was captured unedited by the cameras and sent to me in real time. If the Damiki Rig represented the rapid evolution of fishing techniques, this last moment demonstrated something even more important about the state of the sport – the biggest impediment to interest and exposure has always been the ability to put the anglers in your living room as the action occurs. Now, perhaps faster than we expected it, that dream has become our reality.
B.A.S.S. asked contributors, staff and anglers to reflect on their favorite moments of 2017. You can read more of them here.