Bassing for Bucks

Glen Sheppard, Editor of The North Woods Call asked me to write the  “con” side of a debate over tournament fishing. And he asked Ron Spitler, then the DNR’s district fish chief in Pontiac,  to write the pro side. If you want to find Ron’s views, go find them for yourself. All you get here is mine! It appeared in the Call November 14, 1979.

Joe’s Agin It

LAKE FRENZY, MICH (3rd Planet-from-the-Sun ) — At that moment when the tourney director’s gunhand is lifted skyward your adrenaline pumps with psychic-driven fuel injection. There are 50 (count ’em) hundred-horse bass rigs sputtering and pounding the misty surface of the lake. This is, “Gentlemen (and lately, ladies), start your engines” On the bricks at Indy.

This is head-to-head, eyeball-to-eyeball, bust-yer-jaw-and-break-yer-leg-go-to-hell-competition, most glorious ‘Merican one-on-one. This is  red-white-n-blue, good ole Yankee -tyle Bassing for Bucks…where for $50 you can go head’s-up for greenbacks for the bronzebacks you haul into your boat.

And this tournament has about as much relation to fishing as cottontails to cottonmouths.

Bass tournament fishing started as a down-south-you-all-pursuit, and got so popular that it (in the words of the infamous Snooker) “got brung north to where the money wuz.” On weekends you now can find a bunch of good-ole boys in gaudy jumpsuits hawg-hassling for cash on just about any local pond.

In true American fashion we’ve now built ourselves a tightly interlocking series of championship tourneys wherein big bucks are up for grabs and the former fraternity of the community fishing hole has bought the proverbial farm.

Some folks (a very small few) actually make a living from winning tourneys…and with the fishing tackle endrorsements that ride with the BIG titles.

In Michigan, it’s hard to belive that fishermen actually crave bass; not too long ago Mr. Bass was a short step above carp and dogfish in this Land of Trouters. No more: bass have assumed an important role in our overall fishery. So much so, that the DNR once experimented with Florida bass to see if bigger trophies could be homegrown in our Winter Wonderland. What they got were flash-frozen Florida bucketmouths…and so much for that effort.

That fishing tournaments should develop comes as no surprise. Even the trouters have had their traditional jamborees , one-fly tournaments and such, but these were not so formal….not so organized.

The bass tournament takes the best in organizational know-how from Little League and drops it on the sport of fishing. Result: something else…not fishing.

Number One! Number One! We Americans simply have to know who is best at whatever. Vincent of Lombardi is the patron saint of nose-to-nose competition.

Fishing-turned-competition is a bit hard to swallow. For a perspective, take the concept and apply it to another basically solo human endeavor…reading.

That’s right, sports fans, here we are at the Library of Congress for the first U.S. National Reading Championship. The hundreds of finalists have been training and competing for years in local, state, and regional elimination contests and now they are here  so that we can crown the Best Reader in Yankeeland (which includes Dixieland). Yahoo, Mountain Dew! Git-down and git-it-ON!

The guns sounds! Readers race to the stacks, grab for thick-bound volumes and start devouring words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters. They are sweating heavily…there is no air conditioning in the library…and only those in the best condition will stand a chance over this grueling 48-hour reading test.

Then it’s over and the winners step to the top of the award dais to receive their medals and cash, prizes for thickest single book read, most thick books read, most words read, most pounds of books read, most technical book read, fastest reading of the same book (special head-to-head competition), most books read in an hour, 12 hours, 24 hours. The competitive category possibilities are infinite.

Ludicrous. A reading tournament? Why not? The cash-bassers have already moved us a step closer.

Understand, I am not putting down the troops that compete in these tournaments; but personally, it’s not for me. Basically these folks don’t hurt anyone else, and in Fast-Foodland that’s a pretty good point in their favor.

But competitive fishing demeans the activity. It cheapens it. The real competition in life is with ourselves; to fight constantly to keep ourselves from going bonkers in everything we undertake: golfaholics, alcoholics, sexaholics, workaholics, bassaholics. We are a nation of “ics” — obsessed with excess; it is this that turns me away from the fishing tourney.

Shep’s invitation said to “let it all hang out” on the subject of Bassing-For-Bucks. So be it. Bass Tournaments? Sayeth Pogo: We have met the enemy and they is us. ” And dat’s da name a dat tune.

Ten-four, Shep-babes. Catch ya on the flip-flop. I’m gone…fishing….alone.

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