“When I used to talk about the BASS circuit with friends, I would get blank stares and people would look at me like I was an alien,” ESPN Outdoors television personality Mark Zona said.
“But a few weeks ago, I flew back to Michigan for a function with some friends,” Zona said. “And they know the names of the top guys; the Iaconellis, the VanDams. It is amazing. One out of five people can tell you something about the sport. This just wasn’t the case a few years ago.”
Zona said ESPN, which acquired BASS in 2001, played a powerful role in that evolution, but he believes the anglers – their personalities, performance and passion – are real draws.
“Fans really relate to personalities,” said Zona, an avid angler. “Anglers like Denny Brauer and Michael Iaconelli bring the sport to life.”
A familiar personality – both on the water and in front of the camera – is Florida’s Roland Martin, who recently retired after capping his career by being voted by fans the second greatest angler ever – behind Rick Clunn – in ESPN’s Greatest Angler Debate. Martin, 65 years old and a 19-time BASS winner, has been a fixture on television for more than 30 years.
“I gained stature and status because of my television show, and now more so than ever; anglers have a real chance at a lucrative opportunity through television,” Martin said.
While television exposure, feature magazines, Web sites and newspaper coverage contributed to the growth of bass fishing, BASS also reshaped the landscape with a recent tournament restructuring.
In 2006, BASS is introducing the groundbreaking, 11-event CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series, pitting the world’s most elite anglers against each other for a $100,000 grand prize at each tournament.
There’s also the Bassmaster Majors, three no-entry-fee tournaments offering a $250,000 grand prize each, and the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, which boasts a $500,000 grand prize and a $1.2 million total prize purse. The Bassmaster Classic will kick off the 2006 season, Feb. 24-26, on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla.
“The new Elite tournament structure provides for a very lucrative opportunity,” said Pennsylvania Elite pro Dave Wolak. “There’s also a certain amount of inherent drama going to such great fisheries. At all of these locations next year, you have the opportunity to catch a big fish, and I get excited about a tournament where you can land a really big fish.”
Some say Wolak, 29, represents the future of bass fishing. He’s young, educated and is business-savvy. He’s also an excellent angler, winning the 2005 Toyota Rookie of the Year award and finishing fourth in the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
“The general trend and progression is extremely positive in regards to sponsor participation and I am glad to be involved,” Wolak said. “Ten years down the road, I see a great deal of anglers making a viable living in the sport.”
BASS is the worldwide authority on bass fishing, sanctioning more than 20,000 events through the BASS Federation annually. Guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans, BASS sets the standard for credibility, professionalism, sportsmanship and conservation, as it has for nearly 40 years.
BASS stages bass fishing tournaments for every skill level and culminates with the CITGO Bassmaster Classic. Through its clubs, youth programs, aquatic resource advocacy, magazine publishing and multimedia platforms, BASS offers the industry's widest array of services and support to its nearly 550,000 members. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208. To join BASS, visit www.bassmaster.com or call 1-800-BASS-USA.