In the early days of Bassmaster tournaments, we went in with about 150 guys, and I always figured there were only 10 true pros I had to beat.
Beyond that there was a huge group of what I would call the middle class of pretty good anglers. Then there was another big group of guys who entered the tournament simply because they liked to fish.
In today’s Bassmaster Elite Series – especially with the college kids coming into the pros – there is still a handful of guys who are a step above others, but only one or two steps.
That second group of anglers has closed that gap, and there are a lot more of them coming. And unlike the days of yesteryear, they will push the top anglers every day.
Back in the day, we were specialists. If the pattern fit your special skills, you were tough to beat. But today, the young anglers are so versatile and good that the specialists are just average when their specialty isn’t working.
For example, I’m weak at fishing for bedding fish to a point it becomes a mental problem. The youngsters on the circuit not only love it, they know the conditions are going to change the fish. They have fine-tuned the spawning season more than it’s ever been fine-tuned. If the fish were eating a buzzbait and conditions changed, they recognize it immediately and change tactics. Me? I keep throwing it.
Now, during summer, fall and winter, I can make those adjustments, but in the spring I’m bewildered.
This new breed of anglers on tour gets started at an early age, is extremely versatile and has fishing electronics mastered before they start fishing professionally.
Conversely, I joined a bass club when I was 26 and started pro career when I was around 28 or 29. When these young anglers hit the Bassmaster Opens and the Elites, they already have about 15 years of experience under their belts.
Of course, the information at their fingertips today is so vast compared to what it was. In those early days of my career, we were pioneering, disproving some old myths about bass fishing and proving other things.
Today’s anglers study Google Earth, YouTube and everything else available to them. They do their homework and have tremendous recall. I’ve had them tell me details of a big fish I caught in a tournament long before they were born.
They really fascinate me. I like watching them fish and marvel at their boat control, manners on the water, in-depth knowledge, understanding of the areas they are fishing and awareness of how boats around them affect an area. They know how to adjust to that.
They have so many rods rigged differently on the deck there’s very little room to stand, but they know how to use them all and are prepared for anything they anticipate will happen that day.
Yes, there may be names and faces that aren’t household names, but this Elite field – from top to bottom – is way above what it was in the early years.
You can expect to see competition get even tougher as more young guns advance through the system into the Elites and teach us all how to become even better anglers than we are today.