As of recent, Carl and I have allowed tournament fishing to take a back seat. This isn’t because of our lack of desire to compete, but to focus more on filming. So, it is from outside the tournament realm that I will analyze the issue that I present to you today.
It is my opinion that keeping all age groups engaged in bass fishing is paramount to the preservation of this great sport we all love. I don’t think any angler would disagree with that. However, at least with the clubs and trails I have fished with, there is a SERIOUS age gap. There are a large number of 40-50+ year old anglers. These are the seasoned guys that have been doing this for the better part of their lives. These guys are usually the foundation of their clubs or trails, and usually assume a leadership role of some sort.
As the ages of anglers get younger, the number of anglers in those younger age groups get smaller and smaller. For the past couple years, I have been one of the youngest anglers in the trail that I fish. I enjoy being a “newbie” and I learn many lessons with every tournament I fish. But, I believe, that if we wish to preserve this sport – whether competitive or recreational – we must realize that smoothing the generational transition should be at the forefront of every club or trail’s agenda.
With that being said, how do we attract young people to the realm of tournament style bass fishing? I certainly have my opinions on the matter. On the larger scale, Elite Series Pro Mike Iaconelli has been a pioneer in this sport. Without him, professional bass fishing as a whole would certainly be much different. His passion, his style, and his vocalization have broken the mold of the Bill Dance-esque bass fishermen. This path that Ike has created is blazed today by guys like Brandon Palaniuk and Brent Ehrler, who maintain a energetic image and compete furiously. With guys like this representing bass fishing, keeping the attention of younger aspiring anglers is less of a burden.
On the local level is where we face the bigger challenge. Obviously we have realized at this point, that our hobby is not a cheap one. The cost of a glass boat and gear is enough to deter any young angler alone. But If we’re lucky to finance a boat, and keep it running, the young angler needs to decide if he or she wants to fish competitively. Personally, it took me a while to warm up to the idea. I enjoyed bass fishing so much, I didn’t want to tarnish it with the mental and financial pressures of tournament fishing. I quickly realized that the competitive aspect was a thrill, almost addicting. I also realized that tournament fishing is the glue that holds our community together. It is the catalyst for the emergence of new techniques. Is is also a forum for conservation discussion, and a sample set of what is working to preserve our species – and what isn’t.
Tournament directors around the country should be exploring new ways to attract youthful competitors. There are many directions one could head to tackle this imposing issue, and I do not think there is one set answer. I do think that reaching out to new people should be a bigger priority, and if that comes at the expense of a few ruffled feathers of current club or trail members, than so be it.
What we have to realize is that without new anglers, our sport has the potential to fizzle out over time. Attracting the next furor of future fishermen and keeping them engaged in the sport is the cornerstone of the Freak Finder project. We attempt to do it through media. Where this type of self-promotion really needs to occur is within tournament organizations. These tournament organizations are obviously the engineering bodies behind our weekend battles, but these entities can also serve as advocacy groups. These groups well help protect the rights of anglers, and help insure the future of our sport in terms of access, restrictions and regulations. Organizations Like BASS and FLW are the first two that would come to mind. But even smaller trails and local clubs should realize the importance of attracting more people, and young people, to a great sport that can be so rewarding on many different levels.
Fishing was a gift presented to me from two separate generations of relatives my elder. Lessons learned through time on the water have molded my life into what it is today. Fishing means something special to each of us, and a new lesson is learned each day. We must continue to strive forward in preserving the sport for our children, and their children. After all, like our freedom here in this great nation, our sport is only one generation away from extinction. Its up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen.