Many of the people involved in professional fishing tournaments are comparing the development of the sport to automobile racing.
Competitive fishing is certainly enjoying a growth spurt. Young anglers, many with college diplomas in their hands and stars in their eyes, are jumping into the minor leagues to hone their skills to chase dreams of becoming the next Roland Martin, Denny Brauer or Kevin VanDam.
Recognizing marketing opportunities, companies are signing up as sponsors to promote their Citgo gasoline, Fuji film, Busch beer, Stanley tools, Kellogg's Corn Flakes and many other familiar brands. Television companies, most prominently ESPN and Outdoor Life Network, are developing programming that brings competitive fishing into households throughout America - the same households that buy gas, film, cereal and beer.
Here in the Mahoning Valley, competitive fishing has its own cadre of aficionados. They buy the Rangers and Tritons, the Mercs and Yamahas, the MotorGuides and Minn Kotas that the pros use. They wield the same Daiwas, Quantums and Shimanos as the big stars, and pitch the Strike Kings, Bombers, Zooms and Power Baits just like professional anglers.
And all things being equal, these same local anglers are inclined to drive up to Citgo pumps and grab Busch 12-packs when it's time to deal with thirsty fuel tanks and parched throats.
Competitive fishing goes way back to the days when bait shops and chambers of commerce hung signs touting big fish derbies. The sport entered its modern era 32 years ago when Alabama insurance salesman Ray Scott dreamed up a way to eke a few bucks from the pockets of eager anglers.
What it has become is the result of a lot of hard work and groundbreaking moves by inspired individuals.
"We have high hopes that bass fishing will get much, much bigger than it is now," Mark Quenzel, an ESPN senior vice president for programming, said at a news conference in July at the BASS Masters Classic in Birmingham, Ala.
"Consumers - our viewers - want to see the information we are televising," Quenzel said. "Our goal is to provide them with insight and present compelling situations."
Good for all
It can be argued that pro fishing tournaments have been good for all anglers, not just those who pay big entry fees to take a chance at winning a small fortune. As has auto racing, competitive fishing has resulted in vast improvements in equipment - to the benefit of the consumer.
Car racing gave us the rear view mirror, radial tires, sleek styling, better engines and technologically superior materials that are stronger and lighter.
Inspired to outfit their pro staffs with the best equipment to deliver winning edges, the companies that make boats, outboards, rods, reels, lures and accessories all duel each other year after year to see who can capitalize on their anglers' successes.
Consumers, of course, benefit by having great quality and variety from which to select their own equipment.
So what's over the horizon for competitive fishing? It's almost impossible to say, because the visionaries are still at work pitching ideas that most of us can hardly imagine.
But it is safe to say we'll see more growth. It also is not out of the realm of possibilities that more kids will dream of fishing careers just like they now imagine themselves as the next Omar Vizquel or Tim Couch.
Because when it's all said and done, fishing is great fun.