Leveling the playing field

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Bassmaster Marshal

Just prior to announcing the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule, the “no-info rule” was expanded by B.A.S.S. It now prevents Elite Series competitors from soliciting or receiving information about next year’s tournament venues as soon as those locations are known. Previously, that off limits period only extended to 28 days before the start of the official practice period. I applaud B.A.S.S. for taking this step, and also for the expedited manner in which they acted. The angler Advisory Board approved this measure at Ross Barnett, and just a little over two months later it was made final.

I’m on the Advisory Board that shepherded this change through, and I was thrilled that we approved it unanimously based on a vote in which 80 percent of current Elite Series anglers supported the change. I haven’t had anyone who objected to the change articulate their reasoning to me, but let me take this opportunity to explain why I think this is a critical moment for our tour and for our sport. 

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get a call from some high school angler, a high school angler’s father or a college bass angler asking for help. It’s not against the rules for them to do that, and I don’t know that it’s always a bad thing, but to me it’s symptomatic of the fact that the general public as a whole seems to assume that all of us seek and receive help. That’s not true. I’m sure some unknown percentage of the field does obtain varying levels of help, but in my career I’ve never felt that was the best way to win. In recent years even a few of my esteemed colleagues have suggested that “everybody gets help,” and I was offended by them saying that because a substantial portion of us do not. The lesson that I want to send to the high school and college fishermen is that the best way to help yourself is not by getting someone else’s waypoints. That sort of effort is detrimental to you developing your own abilities to find and catch fish.

I can say definitively that the majority of tournaments on the Elite Series are not won by getting outside help. At the same time, as the amount of money and fame available to anglers has increased, and the amount of money invested in us rises, there’s more pressure to pull out all of the stops to get ahead. I sincerely hope that by creating this rule, and by announcing it so far in advance, we are able to level the playing field as much as possible.

As with any rule, there will be gray areas, but I’m sure that Trip Weldon and everyone at B.A.S.S. will take every possible measure to leave as little gray space as possible. We’ve already gotten multiple emails from B.A.S.S. reminding us of the rule and spelling out how it will operate. At this point if an Elite angler is not aware of it then he’s consciously avoiding it.

I can’t stress enough how good this change makes me feel about our sport. Over the years I’ve written a lot of emails to young fishermen and their parents explaining that there’s an art to what we do on the water. It’s a beautiful thing to watch Keith Combs dissect a piece of offshore structure. I’ve been within sight of KVD as he’s broken down a key area. The majority of the people out there don’t realize how much talent and effort go into this process. I’m telling you right now that Brent Ehrler could drop his boat in a new lake, spend the day picking it apart, and beat just about any local out there. That’s a fact that even many seasoned observers of the tournament game don’t fully get. I’ve seen Elite Series competitors achieve incredible feats time and time again and not only do I remain amazed by them, but I also remain amazed by how different we all are. I can watch Combs or VanDam or Ehrler for hours and hours, but their system will never work for me, just as my system probably wouldn’t work for them.

The beauty of our sport is that we share a common playing field, but each of us brings his own style and strengths to the game. I want to win every tournament that I enter, but I can also appreciate it when someone figures out the pieces of the puzzle better than I do and he beats me. Of course the wins and titles are the greatest rewards of tournament fishing, but every year there are smaller victories that go unnoticed – like a tournament where you’re on nothing, but by figuring out a key area or a key technique you squeak up into the money. This new rule will reward those efforts, too, and it will elevate our sport and our anglers to another level of professionalism.

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