Bass Fishing is a growing sport in America; it has been said that bass fishing could eventually be a spectator sport that rivals NASCAR in scope. Bass tournament circuits can be found virtually everywhere throughout the United States, and other parts of the world, including Japan, South Africa, even Italy, have tournament circuits. The popularity of tournament angling has become infectious to many, and the contagion has also spread to the female population.
The WBFA Tour (Women's Bass Fishing Association) started in September of 1997 with its inaugural tournament. Forward to 2001, the tour is celebrating its fourth complete year with its season-end Classic World Championship to be held on The Red River in Alexandria, Louisiana, on August 18 - 25, 2001. The competitors are staunch professionals who face the most challenging angling conditions and usually find a way to catch fish, regardless of the environmental conditions that can plague tournament anglers. This is the story of one such professional.
Meet 37-year-old Dianna Rogers from Bumpus Mills, Tennessee, the 2001 WBFA Tour Rookie of the Year. Each tournament season, the Rookie of the Year title is bestowed upon the highest finishing rookie in the year-end points standings. It is an impressive feat to win the Rookie of the Year by 11 points, but even more impressive is that this first-year angler finished the 2001 campaign in seventh place, only 34 points behind the Angler of the Year Sherrie Brubaker.
The road to bass fishing fame and fortune can be long and diverse, and Dianna's path was no different. After graduating from Magnolia High School in Magnolia, Texas, Dianna went to the Police Academy. She was 19 years old when she graduated from the academy; too young to purchase her service revolver and ammunition, her father did that for her. She served for four years as a Law Enforcement Officer in Houston, Texas. She is also a retired Desert Storm Veteran, serving her time in the military as an AH64 Attack Helicopter Inspector.
She loved to fish as a child, but she never tried her hand at bass fishing until she moved to Fort Campbell, Tennessee, where she met Harvey Clark. Harvey took her to a local lake, where she fell in love with bass fishing. They would often play hooky to go fishing in a small johnboat with a 25 horsepower outboard; soon, they began to catch a lot of fish.
Their success led them to compete in some local tournaments. She recalls showing up at tournaments with their tiny boat; "these guys in their big boats would all be laughing at us because of our johnboat. Of course, it took us longer to get to our fish and get back to the weigh-in, but they would stop laughing when our fish hit the scales." Harvey and Dianna continue their success today; they fished two local tournaments the weekend before this interview and placed second on Saturday and third on Sunday.
Dianna's confidence in her abilities is apparent yet not overwhelming. That confidence led to her emergence on the pro side of the WBFA Tour. While fishing her first tournament as an amateur on Lake Eufaula in Alabama, she became frustrated by being in the back of the boat. "I saw all of these big bass bedding in the shallows, but my boater kept moving past them. I didn't understand because I knew we could catch those fish." She continued. "I walked up to Willie (Cook, WBFA President, and Tournament Director) and asked him what would it take for me to become a pro?" Willie responded, "Pay the entry fee, and bring your boat."
She would later learn that the boater followed one of tournament fishing's unwritten sportsmanship rules by not fishing the leader's fish, but the effect was the same. She has fished as a pro ever since.
To date, Ms. Rogers' best WBFA finish is a third-place posting at Pickwick Lake in only her second pro-level tournament. She also weighed in the big fish for the event, catching a five-pound Smallmouth bass on a Storm Chug Bug topwater lure. Her favorite fishing technique is a jig and pig, a power presentation that has been known to fool big bass.
To date, her biggest bass is a nine-pound one-ounce largemouth bass caught on a plastic worm during an evening tournament, and she can boast of a five-fish limit weighing 24.9 pounds during another WBFA event. Unfortunately, the buzzbait pattern responsible for the heavy first-day stringer fell apart on the second day of the tournament, and she fell to sixth place.
With all of that success in mind, it takes more than being able to catch a lot of fish to be wildly successful on any professional tournament circuit. It costs quite a bit of money to compete in these events, and few can do it independently. Sponsorships weigh heavily into the tournament angling equation, and it takes a whole package of skills to impress the companies who invest in an angler.
An outgoing, friendly personality, writing and speaking ability, and an appearance of clean professionalism are all traits that draw potential sponsors to an angler; Dianna has most of them. She has spent quite a bit of her time giving seminars to large groups. One of her favorite topics is "Basic Bass Fishing Techniques."
This kind of profile recently drew the attention of Cincinnati, Ohio-based Snag Proof Manufacturing. Celebrating its 40th anniversary, the company has seen many trends and is seeing the impact that female professionals have on the sport of tournament angling. Connie Fuller, Co-Owner, and Promotions Manager, saw an opportunity to participate in this growing trend. "We wanted to add a female angler to our pro staff, and after doing our research, we found that Dianna has the qualities and talents that fit into the way we do things. It's a good match."
Snag Proof's weedless lines of lures are a natural fit for Dianna as well. "I like to throw jigs because they are the kind of lure you can fish where no other lure would go, and that's where the big fish are. Snag Proof adds a similar 'go anywhere' dimension to my topwater game. An angler needs any edge they can get to be competitive. These lures are big fish attractors, and knowing that Snag Proof lures will usually draw a big bite is a tremendous confidence builder on tour."
One other trait that is very popular with sponsors is loyalty, and Dianna is that. Her list of local and national backing is impressive; Grandpa's Wholesale Store, Tipton's Construction, Snag Proof Manufacturing, VFW Posts 1913, 5478 and 11160, Fraternal Order of Eagles, Gator's Heating and Air Conditioning, Tom Parker Wholesaling, Marshall and Associates, Advanced Underground Imaging, Jack's Juice Bait Spray and Mustad Fishing Hooks.
She remembers going into Grandpa's to ask for help. She spoke to Jackie Riner, store manager, who had a reputation for saying no to proposals of this type. " I looked at her (Jackie) and said, 'I'm just getting started, and it's tough for a woman in a man's world.' She looked at me over the top of her glasses to say, 'Duh, like I didn't know that.' But she lifted her head and said, 'how much do you need?' And that was the beginning of our relationship."
The path that the WBFA Tour is on is exciting to Dianna, too. She is grateful for being a part of its first few years. While there is a slight frustration for the competitors due to a lower level of recognition than their male counterparts, Dianna is highly optimistic. "Sponsorships are a little harder to come by on the women's side of pro fishing tournaments because they are not as well known as the men's circuits. She added. "It will take a large sponsor to raise awareness about what we're doing out here, but Willie and Carole (Cook) are working hard to make it happen, and we're excited to see it coming."
If her early success is any indication, the fishing world is in for a treat. The future is as bright as Dianna wants to make it. WBFA President and Tournament Director Willie Cook echoed those sentiments by saying, " Dianna has shown as much focus and drive as anybody that has come along since we started this thing in September of 1997." He continued, "She has as much chance at continued success as any of the women before her."
Without hesitation, Dianna will let us know that she will not let success go to her head; "I have always tried to live my life by saying to myself, 'Never forget who you are, where you come from, and who helped you get there.' I don't want to fall into that trap."
Well, Dianna, if things continue at this pace, we won't be able to forget you either.