"You have make fishing fun for kids," said 9-year-old Johnny Schultz of Wisconsin, the 2003 Bassmaster CastingKids champion. Other panelist included Bradley Roy, 13, Lancaster, Ky.; Sean Alarid, 15, of Oakley, Calif.; and Maddie Smith, 11, of Vidor, Texas, all contestants in the Bassmaster Junior National Championship held here this week. The young anglers agreed that fishing has to be perceived as "cool" in order to attract more youngsters to the sport.
The youngsters were among several speakers, including some representing women and minority anglers, featured during the two-day Fishing Leadership Conference hosted by BASS and ESPN Outdoors.
The conference attracted more than 150 leaders in the fishing industry, including state fisheries officials, manufacturers, conservation organizations and conservation directors and presidents of state BASS Federations. Other guests included U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes (R), of Concord, N.C., cochair of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus; Steve Griles, deputy secretary of the Interior; Steve Williams, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS); and Mamie Parker, assistant director of fisheries, FWS.
Increasing participation in fishing and other outdoor sports is critical to protecting America's natural resources, added Williams. "Hunters and anglers are not only the backbone of this sport, they are also the first line of defense in the protection of natural resources," he said.
Christine Godleski, vice present and general manager of ESPN Outdoors, told the group that ESPN and BASS are attempting to reach out to a broader audience of anglers, including children, women and minorities, through programming and through the conservation programs of BASS.
"We are absolutely committed to growing this sport," she said.
The Fishing Leadership Conference was part of a weeklong celebration surrounding the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer.
Commenting on efforts to attract more nontraditional anglers to the sport, Tom Bedell, president and CEO of Pure Fishing, and founder of the Sportfishing and Boating Partnership Council and the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, used 2003 Bassmaster Classic Champion Michael Iaconelli as an example.
Iaconelli, known for his wild antics on camera, has attracted a new following among young television viewers.
"We need more Mike Iaconellis," Bedell said. "We need more excitement and a willingness to support new ideas and change."
To capitalize on the momentum provided by the conference, the group assigned a task force to study current outreach programs and to organize an "outside the box" outdoors summit early in 2005 to explore these issues in greater detail.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer, which includes the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.