Tulsa, Okla.— I spent a good chunk of Media Day at the Bassmaster Classic talking with the competitors about “secret weapons”, lures they had which no one else in the field of 55 owned. I told them if they showed me, I wouldn’t tell anyone any specifics until the championship was over, and even though Edwin Evers was crowned World Champion on Sunday, I’m still not eager to enter the witness protection program.
Instead, I’ll talk bigger picture and what these secret weapons say about our industry.
First, it was interesting to see that each of these secret weapons fell into one of four categories, as follows:
- Lures that are new to the market and making their debut at the Classic;
- Production baits that have been customized, usually with a new paint job;
- Out-of-production lures, some of which have also been customized by new paint jobs; and
- Homemade lures.
By far, the smallest group was homemade lures, and that’s good news for our industry … at least on some level. Very few of the Classic anglers are hitting the water and expecting to use a lure that was made in someone’s basement, garage or at a kitchen table. You may recall that Casey Ashley won last year on a jig spinner made by his father, Danny. That bait is now being manufactured by TTI-Blakemore as “Casey’s Classic Runner.” It was the first time a Classic was (openly) won on a bait you could call “non-production” (though Bobby Murray cobbled together various production parts from Hildebrandt and Rex to create a winner in 1978).
The fact that there aren’t a lot of homemade lures at work in the Classic may tell us that the marketplace is mostly covering the bases, mostly meeting the needs of anglers and mostly fulfilling the imaginations of our most talented bass pros.
That’s a good thing.
In talking to the Classic anglers about secret weapons, I saw hundreds and hundreds of lures that are now out of production … some that haven’t been made in 25 years! They were almost exclusively hard baits, and a lot of them looked like they were fresh out of the box. Many others were artfully painted and some were even custom-colored for Grand Lake ‘O the Cherokees and this specific tournament. When the anglers would pull these out of their storage areas, they’d first look around to make sure no one else saw them, and all swore me to secrecy about make, model and color. One even suggested my life would have little value if I revealed his stash.
What does this say about our industry? With regard to these lures, and I can list the manufacturers and models on the fingers of one hand, marketing and advertising failed. The lures did their part and are still doing their part by catching fish, but they were not promoted properly. Remember the old adage: Before a lure can catch a fish, it has to catch a fisherman. Well, these baits didn’t catch enough fishermen, and that’s on the advertising and marketing people at those companies … or, in the case of one crankbait, on the head of whoever decided to “improve” it.
As for baits currently being produced that got Classic makeovers, what can you say? Every angler wants something a little different and every angler believes that a special, custom color or other attribute could give him the edge he needs. A lot of these baits retail for $4 or $5, but now carry $20 paint jobs. It’s certainly not for everyone’s taste or wallet, but that’s the length a lot of anglers will go to in order to win the biggest bass tournament in the world.
Finally, there are the lures making their debut in Tulsa this week … and they’re everywhere. Some have been in the works for years and others were crafted for this venue, these conditions and this time of year. Either way, that’s the most exciting marketing element at work this year. The Classic is a terrific launching pad for new bass items, and a Classic victory can ignite things nicely.
During competition, it can be almost as interesting to see what bait prevails as it is to see which angler hoists the trophy. Whether it’s something old, something new, something homemade or with a unique hue, the bass world watches the Classic, and the winning lure is always important.