With the same regularity and excitement levels of Thanksgiving or the Superbowl, it’s that time of year of again when the fishing industry comes together to celebrate and enjoy the biggest spectacle in the calendar: the Bassmaster Classic. Despite certain concerns being raised about its future, the Classic remains the biggest, the best and the loudest fishing tournament out there. But I’m telling you what you already know. What you may not know is that there is a huge chunk of the fishing industry and the fishing world that aren’t even aware of the Classic, and many more who do know about it, but it means as much to them as what a B-list celebrity was wearing on the red carpet at the Oscars. From the outside, the Classic is an intriguing beast with very few comparable events or reference points for non-bass fishing, non-Americans.
Speaking from my own point of view, I worked in the European fishing trade for at least three or four years before I even heard mention of the Bassmaster Classic. And when I first saw it with my own eyes, I was actually pretty stunned. Seeing a stadium full of thousands of people cheering, chanting and celebrating a fishermen jarred with everything I’ve ever known as an angler. There is simply nothing like it in the UK or Europe. Sure we have famous anglers, some you could even call stars, but to see fishermen – a group I identify strongly with – worshipped in this way and emblazoned with sponsors and winning life-changing sums of money was a real eye opener.
Naturally, the journalist in me began to ask questions about how and why this fishing behemoth could thrive so much with nothing of the likes in my home country or continent. I came up with a few answers after spending time with industry folks, both in the USA and Europe. They may be a little general, but my findings loosely comprised of this:
- The size of the industry – the USA is the single biggest fishing market refined to one country’s borders. Because of that it has the revenue, the interest and the sheer volume for an event like this to excel.
- Bass – having a fish that is so abundant and so universally popular is something else we lack in Europe. We have some black bass in places like Spain and seabass in the UK and France – but elsewhere our species are hugely varied and no certain one dominates. Carp probably comes closest, but there are those that detest carp fishing equally as passionately as those that love it. The USA has a species that unites the majority.
- Culture – fishing has a more acceptable image in the USA than many European countries, generally speaking. If you said to someone you were a professional angler in the UK, they would have a hard time believing you. I also think the way America consumes and celebrates sport allows fishing to appear exciting, explosive and unmissable – something European attempts at big tournaments have missed the mark on. Fishing is packaged so much better towards sports fans in the USA.
- Industry support – a point I’ve made a few times before is that American companies seem quicker to work together to achieve bigger things. Maybe this again comes down to having such a large industry within on country, but this happens a lot less readily in Europe. This collaborative attitude means the Bassmaster Classic was able to grow rapidly with support of major brands, companies and associations.
These ideas are only speaking in broad brushstrokes – it is obviously far more complicated than that. But I believe some of the general themes to be true. Generally, for those ‘outsiders’ who have dipped their toe into the Classic, similar themes come out. I spoke with Martin Bakos, International Sales Manager for Japanese lure brand DUO, as he was preparing to head over to Tennessee for the company’s fourth involvement with the event. DUO will be exhibiting at the Expo and also backing none other than Aaron Martens, its sponsored angler in the tournament itself.
“Our experience [of the Classic] has been generally very positive,” Martin told me.
“Having a chance to bring our brand and promote it directly to over 100,000 enthusiastic bass fisherman is truly unique and it has been essential in growing our fanbase locally. Coming from Japan, the cost of participating at the show can stack up, especially if you plan to have a larger, well-designed booth, but all in all, I see this investment as being one of the reason why the DUO Realis is growing to be a leader among premium lure brands.
“The biggest impression we got from the Expo was surely the crowds. The waves of people that come and go is truly unbelievable – and that is from someone who is au fait with the ‘so many people it’s hard to move’ vibe from Japan’s Osaka Show. What really impressed me is how people swear by bass fishing and how it is a phenomenon in the USA – literally everyone from four to 94 years old has fishing stories to tell.”
The question on both mine and Martin’s minds is: could such an event ever exist in Europe or Asia? Hope, it appears, is all we have at present. Martin adds: “I surely hope so, although it`s difficult to imagine any of the current shows in Europe or Asia reaching this level. The one that might be closest is the World Predator Classic. The organizer has been working nonstop for the last several years to turn WPC into the most exciting tournament in Europe and he has been great at generating a lot of interest. His approach is very fresh and dynamic, fully considering the entertainment aspect of the tournament as well as the role of social media in connecting with the younger crowd and I see a bright future for the WPC.”
So my advice to you all is enjoy and relish the Bassmaster Classic. From an outsider’s point of view, we are pretty darned jealous.