October 08, 2021
The term disruption is usually described with a negative tone.
You know, disruptions like hurricanes to coastal residents, drought to farmers, unexpected ER visits on family vacations, and snowstorms at Midwest airports before Christmas.
When something disrupts your expectation—from a smooth daily routine to a perfect vacation—it can be difficult to accentuate the positive.
But disruptions can be good, too. Quite good, in fact. In the business world, a disruption could mean innovation, creating a new market, and refusing to accept the status quo.
Not being afraid to try something new—to make a disruption—has been a recipe for success over the years in the world of professional bass fishing.
Enterprising bass anglers like Rick Clunn, Kevin VanDam, Hank Parker, Edwin Evers, Jacob Wheeler, Ott DeFoe, Jordan Lee, his brother Matt, and many other well-known pros, all know what it’s like to fulfill a bass tournament-winning dream. With a couple of fistfuls of determination, desire, hard work, and pure grit, they made it work in bass fishing, even if the odds seemed stacked against them.
B.A.S.S. Boss Ray Scott Takes a Chance
In fact, believe it or not, the very history of professional bass fishing itself is one of positive disruption.
Today, the sport consists of three main tours, hundreds of anglers, countless sponsors, and millions of dollars of prize money in bass tournaments all across America. And that doesn’t include the local, regional, college, high school, and even backyard weeknight, bass-fishing derbies where many of the sport’s household names got their starts.
All of this started about a half-century ago as a dream of Ray Scott, the founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, who endeavored to turn his fishing-business dreams into reality by hosting the All-American Bass Tournament on Arkansas’ Beaver Lake back in June 1967.
While there had been some other fishing tournaments scattered around previously, it was Scott’s All-American, followed then by a derby on Smith Lake, Ala., in October 1967, and another one on Lake Seminole, Ga., in February 1968, that served as the nation’s first real professional bass fishing circuit.
That’s what Scott got when he convinced enough anglers to show up for the All-American, then the subsequent two tournaments in the following months, each agreeing to pay a $100 entry fee and fish for prize packages based on how many bass they brought to the weigh-in stage.
Slowly, the crowds of anglers and interested onlookers began to build with each successive weigh-in, and Scott’s B.A.S.S. tournament organization was born, bringing about hundreds of tournaments in the years since then.
Here Comes Bill Dance
The derbies proved popular enough to lure in talented anglers like Memphis, Tenn., fishing legend Bill Dance, the ever-smiling bass angler who wore his trademark University of Tennessee trucker's cap on top of his head when he fished.
Dance—a Bass Fishing Hall of Famer so popular over the course of his career that country music superstar Luke Bryan recorded a song about him earlier this year—has become a hat-wearing, blooper-creating, tournament legend thanks to his wins, two B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year titles, a whole lot of prize money, and countless magazine stories, Internet articles, fishing seminars and television appearances.
In fact, TV might be what Dance is best known for now. His weekly show in the Memphis area years ago turned into weekly bass fishing and saltwater fishing shows on outdoor television networks and made him perhaps America’s most recognizable fisherman. So much so, that in the spring of 2021, Dance’s beloved University of Tennessee awarded him with an honorary doctorate. Coming from a family of medical doctors, Dance can now join in and smile that the “Doctor is now in!” when his bass rig shows up.
You know, take one spinnerbait and call my office in the morning, right?
We’re Talking $Billions
The bass fishing game that Dance played so well after Scott created it has become part of a massive sportfishing industry that leads to the annual ICAST fishing trade show in Orlando, Fla. and its yearly parade of new boats, motors, trolling motors, kayaks, fishing reels, fishing rods, fishing lines, lures, sunglasses, clothing, and all kinds of other high-tech gadgetry aimed at better catching the largemouth bass and its smallmouth bass cousins.
In fact, according to the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, Ray Scott's genius idea and innovation back in the late 1960s has gone on to help spawn a sportfishing industry that rakes in as much as $125 billion and supports at least 800,000 jobs! Now that’s positive disruption, don’t you think?
For proof of such splashy numbers, look no further than the 51st Bassmaster Classic held earlier this summer (June 11-13, 2021) on Lake Ray Roberts, a bass-fishing hotspot located about a half-hour north of Fort Worth, Texas.
Scott’s brainchild, the Classic, has grown over the years from an event that drew a couple of hundred spectators in a parking lot, to a laser-light show with weigh-ins held in big arenas in front of TV cameras, creating a spectacle resembling a NASCAR race.
This summer’s Classic, the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing,” celebrated its second-highest attendance ever by luring in more than 147,000 spectators to the flooded shoreline of Ray Roberts for morning launches, to the spacious halls of the Will Rogers Center for the sprawling Classic Expo show, and into the state-of-the-art Dickies Arena for the daily weigh-ins in downtown Fort Worth.
In the end, as TV cameras captured all of the action, dozens of media snapped photos and scribbled notes for newspaper stories and Internet features, and thousands of fans cheered loudly as the colorful confetti showered down, North Carolina's Hank Cherry captured his second straight Classic title, becoming only the fourth angler in more than a half a century? to win back-to-back Classic crowns.
Continued Growth of Bass Fishing
While the Classic is a huge part of bass fishing’s appeal today, it’s not the only game in town.
In 2021, the Bassmaster Elite Series soldiers on with Scott’s dream, joined by the Pro Circuit and Major League Fishing in the professional ranks, as well as dozens of tournaments nationwide for regional anglers, college kids, high school teenagers, and even those who have nothing more than a kayak from which to fish.
Most of those bass anglers—probably all of them, actually—dream of winning big trophies, attracting sponsors, signing autographs for fans, and cashing six-figure checks.
A regular-season tournament wins typically pays $100,000; the Classic winner gets $300,000. There have been even bigger payouts; Scott Suggs’ win in the FLW Tour’s 2007 Forrest Wood Cup paid a cool $1 million.
So popular is the sport of competitive bass fishing that thousands of hours of TV and digital programming are aired on platforms dedicated to the sport, such as Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel, World Fishing Network, and My Outdoors TV (MOTV).
Growth Spawns Lure Innovations
Bass tournaments themselves aren’t the only positive disruptions that have spun forth out of Ray Scott’s genius idea back in the late 1960s. The sport spawns plenty of new gear each year, not to mention innovative ways to use it.
Take my friend Kelly Jordon, for instance, the Flint, Texas, bass angler who makes his living fishing on Major League Fishing’s TV and Bass Pro Tour circuits. Jordon won the MLF Challenge Cup on Ray Roberts a few years back.
A former full-time fishing guide on Lake Fork in Texas, “KJ,” as his friends call him, has had his own role to play in angling’s art of positive disruption.
For starters, Jordon was the first professional bass angler to win tour-level events on the Bassmaster Elite Series, the FLW Tour (now the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit), and Major League Fishing. A nine-time Classic qualifier and winner of four professional derbies, Jordon has fished for years in a bass rig loaded with tackle, always tinkering and always figuring out how to use that tackle for better fishing.
Take, for instance, the flutter spoon, a big flashy piece of metal that KJ began to fiddle with more than a decade ago, thanks to Lake Fork tackle-making friend Joe Spaits.
“He’s the one who pioneered that spoon, tinkering with lures and such,” KJ told me a few years back about the summertime technique that many anglers still associate with him. “We used to throw jigging spoons on Lake Fork and he got to thinking and playing around with different spoons and such.”
At the time, KJ and his Fork angling pals typically thought of spoons – the jigging version – as a wintertime technique only, not something to pull out on a triple-digit summertime day deep in the heart of Texas.
But that all changed one day when the weather was warm and the bass were stacked up on deep offshore structure on the bottom of the 27,264-acre reservoir near Quitman, Texas.
“The first time I ever threw the (flutter) spoon was when he (Spaits) gave the spoon to Kenny Mosier, who used to own Mosier’s (Café) at Lake Fork Marina,” recalled Jordon.
“Kenny and I went fishing for a little bit right before a Skeeter owner’s event on Lake Fork and he said ‘Man, I’ve been killing them on the big spoon, Joe’s big spoon, and I think we should go out there and throw it.’
“So, we did and I mean it was crazy light’s out and I’ve been using it ever since.”
A (Mostly) Secret Disruption
For a long while, Jordon was content to keep the mostly secret technique to himself. Until he needed a tournament-fishing miracle, that is, as Outdoor Channel television cameras looked on one day.
For that, allow me to let Ronnie Parker, head man of the Lake Fork Trophy Lures in Emory, Texas, take over the story.
"He caught something like 20-plus pounds (of bass) in eight and a half minutes on Ultimate Match Fishing while fishing a flutter spoon," said Parker, whose tackle company makes the well-known Lake Fork Flutter Spoon today. "It was known for a long time as the best eight and a half minutes of fishing footage ever filmed."
Jordon doesn't disagree, even if he might ruefully wish that he could put the proverbial cat back in the bag. Because while the moment marked the positive disruption that now sees numerous anglers employing the flutter spoon trick each summer, that wasn’t the case until that fateful day of TV action.
"Yeah, it was one of my deals (back then) and I didn't show (it to) anybody," chuckled Jordon. "I didn't talk to anybody (about it) or give them a spoon (to try). I thought 'I'll keep this quiet because at times, it rocked the world.'"
But when that miracle-needing day arrived on Kentucky Lake, Jordon needed a made-for-TV comeback as he fished against Boyd Duckett in Ultimate Match Fishing competition.
You know, Boyd Duckett, the millionaire businessman from Guntersville, Ala., who is also the 2007 Bassmaster Classic champion, the co-founder of Major League Fishing along with Gary Klein, the owner of Duckett Fishing rods and reels, and Jordon's good friend.
"When I got to Ultimate Match Fishing with that, I got on this group of fish and that was the only way that I could catch them," laughed Jordon as he told me his woeful tale of fishing innovation slipping away. "I couldn't catch them cranking, I couldn't catch them stroll casting. It was the first time I've seen deep bass that wouldn't bite a crankbait. But they wouldn't."
But he quickly discovered—as the television cameras recorded the action for the bass-fishing world to see—that they would bite a flutter spoon.
"When they're on it, they're on it," said Jordon, who relies on numerous techniques today that he perfected during his guiding days on Lake Fork in the 1990s. "When they're not, they're not. But if they are on it and you can catch them, it's lights out."
Faced with angling necessity and the need to out-fish his buddy as bass-fishing fans looked on, the result was one TV segment that saw more than 20 pounds of bass caught, a TV clip that revealed the secret lure, and spurred yet another chapter in the ongoing process of positive disruption in the sport of bass fishing.
It all worked, of course, because today, not too many feet away from where I type this story on my computer, lies a big, flashy flutter spoon.
Like many others, it was a sure sale to yours truly after hearing of KJ’s amazing technique and wondering if it would help me in the never-ending quest to be like the pros I watch on TV every week.
How’s that for a little positive fishing industry disruption?