Excitement Builds for New Women's Bass Fishing Tour
Last week's announcement of BASS' Women's Bassmaster Tour in 2006 created unprecedented excitement among professional women anglers throughout the country.
"I think it's thrilling," said Arkansas' Penny Berryman, arguably the most successful woman pro. "It's ultra fantastic for women who love the outdoors, love to fish and love to compete. It looks like a fantastic opportunity."
The Women's Bassmaster Tour is a five-event series debuting in 2006 - following a preview event in October - and culminating with the Women's Bassmaster Championship in February 2007. WBT events will coincide with the dates and locations of five of next year's Bassmaster Tour events. The two tours will fish separate but nearby waters, but final round weigh-ins on the WBT will be held on the same stage as Bassmaster Tour events.
Like the Bassmaster Tour, the WBT will feature a pro-am format. Anglers will be randomly paired and boaters will compete against boaters while non-boaters will compete against non-boaters.
"I love the idea of holding tournaments on companion lakes like Rayburn and Toledo Bend, for example, and then having the final weigh-in together with (the Tour)," Berryman said. "That's pretty cool. Somebody has really spent a lot of time and effort thinking this through to try to provide a great format.
"I think it's a real opportunity for a whole lot of women who really haven't had a chance to find out about competitive women's fishing. I've been in it for so dog-gone long, I wish this happened 10 years ago."
The women pros are especially appreciative that their sport finally will have a big-league forum, as well as a major media partner in ESPN.
"I'm realty excited about it," said Lucy Mize, a Bassmaster Western Open competitor who toiled in the women's circuits for years. "I plan to fish the new Tour along with the Opens."
Mize's goal is to become the first female pro to ever qualify for the heavily competitive Bassmaster Tour.
"I'm planning on qualifying for the (Bassmaster) Tour," Mize said. "If I do, then I'll be in trouble. I'd have to fish that Tour. Otherwise, I'm planning on fishing the women's Tour.
"I've been wanting BASS to do this for at least 10 years now," she said. "And I am so glad they have finally recognized that women are out there and that women want to fish. I think they will be surprised at the amount of participation they will see, depending on the size of the entry fees and the locations of the tournaments."
"All of the women I have fished with the last 18 years are ecstatic about the WBT," Louisiana pro Mary diVincenti said. "We're tickled as we can be about BASS doing this for us.
DiVincenti believes the WBT also will lure large sponsors to the sport.
"It's going to blow our sport right through the roof. I think we're basically an untapped market," she said. "I think this is going to wake up 'big industry' and make them realize just how much influence women have (on purchases.) It's going to give a lot more women that have always thought about participating in our sport the OK to get out there and try it."
He may not be the reigning Angler of the Year anymore, but Gerald Swindle still is in demand by the media.
Case in point: the quick-witted Alabama pro was swarmed with media requests on his first day of pre-tournament scouting in Pittsburgh for the upcoming Bassmaster Classic, July 29-31.
"I've done two or three deals with local news stations on the water," he said. "I did one article with Sports Illustrated. I did BassCenter on the water and last night I did previews for ESPN leading up to the Classic and Loudmouth Bass. I'd say I'm getting talked out.
"The first morning we pulled up to the ramp at 5:45. The local newspaper was waiting there, so Marty (Stone) and I got interviewed, There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes. We're not just a bunch of guys that just launch the boat and go fishing. It's a full-blown business."
Because of the additional responsibilities, the five-day official scouting period has become a test of endurance, Swindle said.
"I got up a little before 5 yesterday and I only ate three sandwiches from then until 11 o'clock at night when we got to eat. Instead of calling this practice week, they ought to call this hell week. You're putting in 16- to 18- hour days and by the end of the fourth day, you are run ragged."
BASS MEMBERS SAVE LIVES
If it wasn't for members of the Central Maine Bassmasters, there is a good chance that a family of five and a friend might have lost their lives in a boating accident on China Lake on June 18. The family's boat sank in 30 feet of water about a half-mile from shore - and no one was wearing life jackets. The water was a chilly 60 degrees.
Fortunately, the Central Maine Bassmasters were holding a tournament on the lake and about to stage their weigh-in. Chuck Ward, Steve Herring, Neil Thomas and Rick Tibbetts managed to rescue the shivering, exhausted swimmers as their boat submerged completely.
Their quick action is credited with saving lives on that day.
Former Tennessee pro John McLain, one of the Bassmaster circuit's true gentlemen, recently passed away in a veteran's hospital in Florida after a long bout with cancer. He was 74.
McLain competed in 138 BASS tournaments from 1976 to 2002, posting 15 top 50 finishes. He also guided on Lake Okeechobee and Tennessee River reservoirs. A veteran of the Korean War, McLain is one of 20 soldiers featured in the book, "Christmas in July."
He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Lois, and three adult children.
During his fourth Classic appearance, Randy Howell hooked his biggest catch. Unfortunately, it didn't count.
"I threw my jig over in the grass and felt a thump," Howell said. "I set the hook and started pulling it through the grass. It didn't want to come through the grass, and then I saw why. It was about a 25-pound loggerhead turtle with my jig in his mouth. Luckily he came off when he got to the boat."
DID YOU KNOW?
Alton Jones' consecutive Classic streak has ended at nine. It was the second longest active streak and is now replaced by Tim Horton's run of seven (including the next two Classics.) Jay Yelas and Kevin VanDam share the longest current Classic streak. VanDam has already qualified for the 2005 and 2006 Classic, while Yelas must finish in the top 10 in Pittsburgh to maintain his pace.
New Jersey pro Pete Gluszek becomes 38 on July 5, while Kansas' Brent Chapman becomes 34 one day later. Texan Randy Dearman turns 58 on July 16. Classic contender Kevin Wirth will be 45 on July 20, while Arizona's Mark Kile turns 39 a day later. On July 24, venerable Rick Clunn will blow out 59 candles. On the opposite end of the age spectrum, Texas pro Todd Faircloth celebrates his 30th birthday on July 25.
IF I HADN'T BECOME A BASS PRO,
Edwin Evers, a Classic contender from Oklahoma, says he likely would be working in his father's Sears store.
THEY SAID IT
"They were in Charlotte looking into the Classic. This year, they are going to host the Classic outdoor show in Pittsburgh. Last year, they were trying to tiptoe around and look at what our sport had to offer. That was their first exposure and they came to the Classic and they loved what they saw. They're a huge, totally outside-the-industry company looking to us. And all they do is make gear for athletes. That shows that we're getting that kind of respect from corporate America and that we're considered athletes." 2004 Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle on Under Armour performance wear, sponsor of the Classic ESPN Outdoors Expo.