The Demise of the Co-anglerThe Demise of the Co-angler Our sport needs to enable non-boaters to fish with fewer restrictions, because they are the future of the industry.
Some recent changes in the formats of many bass tournaments across the country have sparked a typhoon of debate from anglers. Those anglers are the ones that fish from the back of the boat. Although they are not the big name pros that are hamming it up for the camera, they are still very important to the growth of the fishing industry as a whole.
B.A.S.S. is one of the biggest fishing organizations in the world and their recent changes have brought forth some of the loudest discussions. They recently changed the format of the non-boater division on the Bassmaster Tour as well as the newly formed ESPN Outdoors Weekend Series. Rather than being able to weigh-in a limit of fish and compete solely against other non-boaters, these anglers now face more restrictions. From now on, they will only be allowed to weigh 3 fish, and their weight is then added to the weight of their "pro" partner.
On the surface, these seem like very minor issues, but after we scrape away a few of the top layers and expose the real meat of the issue, the problems are very obvious. Two "pilot" tournaments were held to see how the changes would affect the anglers. In both tournaments, the co-angler with the most "individual" weight in his/her division did not win the tournament. Instead, the prize money and the bragging rights went to anglers whose partners had bigger weights. As far as I am concerned that would really suck if I were in a tournament, had the biggest weight in my division, and still ended up in 10th place, while somebody that I truly beat, got a $25,000 paycheck. I know, I know, rules are rules and if we don't like them, we don't have to fish their tournaments. This is very true. But that doesn't mean it's the right way to look at this situation.
I would be willing to bet a few of my paychecks, that an overwhelming majority of the "pros" fishing both major tours, started on the non-boater side. Most anglers use this as a learning period, but at the same time, they still like to compete against their peers. Taking that away from these anglers isn't going to help them succeed in the world of tournament fishing. The true competition is what drives many anglers and it allows them to grow on a personal level. These future pros now have to worry about beating the other non-boaters and hope that their pro partners finish pretty high in the standings as well.
Just to make sure that everyone has a clear understanding of why this issue kind of irritates me, I will give you an example of how the new rule can affect non-boaters during these tournaments. For the sake of conversation, let's say Angler A catches the maximum 3 fish limit for non-boaters and has a weight of 5 pounds. His/Her pro partner has a great day on the water and has a 5 fish limit that weighs in at 20 pounds. The non-boater's total combined weight for the day would be 25 pounds. Now Angler B comes to the stage with a monster 3 fish limit that tips the scales at 15 pounds. Their pro partner, on the other end of the spectrum, had a crappy day and only weighed in 2 fish for a measly 5 pounds. This would give Angler B a combined total weight of 20 pounds. Although Angler B has a 10 pound lead over Angler A on an individual level, he/she would not win. To me, there is just something seriously wrong with that whole concept.
At the tour events, non-boaters might think it is still worth paying the extra money, because they get to fish in the same boats with superstars like Kevin VanDam, Dave Lefebre, Gerald Swindle, or Davy Hite. Now think about the people fishing the non-boater side of the weekend tournaments. Is it worth it to the people that get paired with some no-name "pro" that didn't have a chance to pre-fish because he was working all week in order to make the boat payment? I don't care how awesome a person is at the local or regional level, I would not spend a week's worth of wages to gamble whether or not this person will catch enough fish to win me some money. If I wanted to take such a risk, I would go fishing by myself during the day. At night, I would take my wallet to the local casino and lay a pile of money in front of the Black Jack dealer. I probably have far better odds with the cards than I do betting on some other angler.
If these tournament organizations keep adding restrictions on the non-boaters, it will eventually force them out of the tournaments all together (which might be their motive anyway). Most can not afford to fish the pro side of these tournaments. Of those who can afford it, the majority of them probably aren't good enough. One major benefit to fishing as a co-angler, is the ability to learn as much as you can, by watching and fishing with a person that possesses a higher skill level. The ability to gauge your progress against other anglers in your own division is priceless. These anglers also deserve to be rewarded for their hard work and dedication to the sport. By taking the "real" competition out of the sport, non-boaters are being robbed of their ability to grow and succeed as individuals.
Our sport needs to enable non-boaters to fish with fewer restrictions, because they are the future of the industry. Without new blood being injected into the tournament lifeline, the sport will eventually die. So please, all of you corporate big wigs that are making all of the decisions affecting the sport we love, don't deprive these anglers of their education. Let them fish, learn and compete as individuals. For crying out loud, if they wanted a combined weight format, they would go fish a team trail somewhere.
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