By Steve Graf
With anything new, there are always growing pains. Whether it’s a new job, career move, or maybe a life altering event like Covid 19, we never know the date or the time when these things will happen. High school bass fishing has exploded on a national level and the growing pains are obvious. Today, I’ll give you my perspective on the problems and some of the solutions that I feel will make a difference.
Over the last few years, I’ve had the honor and privilege to speak to high school anglers and their families. The first thing I noticed with high school anglers is their perception of what professional bass fishing really is. All they seem to focus on is what they see on TV or in magazines, along with the logoed jersey’s the pro’s wear. What they don’t understand are the sacrifices anglers and their families make for the pros to go out and make a living by trying to be the best at catching little green fish called bass. They see the cool truck and boat wraps with advertising promoting all their sponsors. They watch the You Tube videos the pros put out on a regular basis which, by the way, are all very insightful and educational for both novice and high-level anglers. But during my speaking engagements with these high school teams, the first question from a high school young man every time I open the floor up for questions is, “How do I get sponsors?” These young anglers think that getting sponsors is the end-all that will enable them to turn professional.
Here’s the reality…making it as a professional bass angler is a long shot at best. The game has changed over the last ten years and it’s no longer about catching bass and winning tournaments. Today’s professional angler must have the ability to sell not only himself, but a product as well. Sponsors today want a guy who is social media savvy, has good communication skills, and can promote and sell. It’s all about the return on the dollar. Can or will the angler be able to help the company he’s representing, sell more product? I always tell young anglers today, take business classes and above all else, take a speech class. An angler must be able to stand up in front of a crowd and talk intelligently. Catching bass and winning tournaments are still important, but some anglers are making a good living simply because they are great promoters, not only of themselves, but the companies they represent.
Let’s get back to the question of the day,…is high school bass fishing good or bad? The biggest issue with this level at this time, is the fact that a lot of high school kids are not being taught proper fishing etiquette. I’ll compare it to Little League baseball. You have parents and coaches volunteering their time to provide leadership and teach kids the skills they need to improve and get better as baseball players. But some of these volunteers have no clue on how to do this, but at least they’re stepping up and doing what nobody else wants to do. It’s the same for high school bass fishing. You have boat captains (usually dads) stepping up and driving the boat so their kids can participate in the bass tournaments. I truly applaud all those who volunteer their time just so their kids can fish a tournament. But here’s the problem, these same volunteers have no clue on what tournament etiquette even is. Therefore, there are so many confrontations on the water today with older tournament anglers, who understand the unwritten rules of the water. I make it a point to start every lecture I give with tournament etiquette. They need someone to teach them what it means to cut someone off, to understand what hole jumping is, to know the proper way to launch their boat without blocking the boat ramp and creating chaos. They need to be taught to respect another angler’s space or spot they’re actively fishing, and that it’s not good etiquette to use binoculars to see where a popular angler is fishing and then go and fish his spot after he leaves. These are just a few of the things that inexperienced boat captains and young anglers today do not know. Legendary Pro Dion Hibdon (former Bassmaster Classic and FLW Champion) told me years ago that the number one problem on the water today is that the young anglers coming up don’t understand fishing etiquette. He said that fishing etiquette should be a required course, just like hunter safety, before an angler can fish tournaments.
To wrap this up, my biggest complaint currently is the fact that these high school tournaments are too big. It’s not unusual to have 500 boats in a tournament and that’s way too many, not only from a conservation standpoint, but safety issues as well. These events need to limit the number of boats they allow for a high school tournament. Other major bass fishing circuits have limits, why not high school? I still believe high school bass fishing is awesome and great for the sport and its future. But just like any other sport, it needs to be taught the right way by people who know and understand the unwritten rules of the water. I know there will be someone who thinks I’m anti-high school fishing, but nothing could be further from the truth. I just want these youngsters to learn and be taught the right way so everyone can get along on the water. Good luck, good fishing and don’t forget to set the hook!
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