Bass in Action: Idaho Bass Fishing Builds its Own Culture 

The Southern states may have the reputation, but Idaho is in the mix

The worm in my fingers struggles for life as I set it onto my hook. A few quick practiced loops and it is securely skewered, ready to be dropped into the rocks in front of me. I have found the perfect lazy man's place for fishing--a deep section of the Snake River that undercuts a rock ledge. When the bait is dropped, it swirls around in a perfect small-mouth bass habitat. I don't even have to cast and I'm pounding the fish.

One after another, 10- to 11-inch bass are fighting with me only to be let go. You can only keep bass that are 12 inches or longer on the Snake River, and I let almost all the bass I catch go anyway.

In the distance, I hear the roar of a bass boat engine. Quick, low and light, I see the boat fly by me, causing a wake. I reel in my line and wonder about all the money that guy must have dropped on that boat: thousands and thousands of dollars, no doubt. The wake hits the shoreline and the fish stop biting for a few minutes.

Done fishing, I climb into my cheap but very functional duck boat and cruise back to the dock. I am going a lot slower than the bass boat I just saw. It would be a nice hobby, I think to myself.

But for some, bass fishing is no hobby. Turn on the TV and start surfing the sportsmen channels. You know the ones: the guy sitting in the tree stand, or on the boat casting and casting. Look and see how many of those guys are sponsored by something that's related to fishing: Lure manufactures, boat makers, trailer makers, line brokers and sporting goods companies like Cabela's and Bass Pro Shop make up the bulk of the sponsors.

Bass fishing is not a worm-on-a-hook sort of affair for a large number of people. It is a big business.

In fact, bass fishing has grown during the past century into a billion-dollar industry that can be seen throughout America. Back in the '90s, General Mills even featured a bass fisherman on the front of a Wheaties box. Denny Brauer of Camdenton, Mo., got the face time by winning as points champion of a $1 million Forest Wood Open bass tournament.

"I am absolutely thrilled to be in the company of the greatest athletes in history," Brauer said. "I never dreamed that my love of bass fishing would ever lead to a spot on the Wheaties box."

Not only is bass fishing on cereal boxes, it is on TV all the time as well. Bass fishing is on the same channel that hosts NBA and NFL games. But unlike those sports, bass fishing is physically egalitarian. You don't need to be super strong, big or fast to compete. With bass fishing, you just have to fish--a lot. And you need to be smart about how you do it, knowing conditions, tactics, bait and weather.

While it might be physically egalitarian, that does not make bass fishing an easy thing to pursue monetarily, especially on the professional level.

"Entry fees into the pro tournaments are about [$4,000] each. The only way you can afford it is to get a number of sponsors to pay your way," said Bruce Flesher, president of the Idaho Bass Federation.

Fletcher is, by his own admission, "a reformed trout fisherman." Those fees are the reason for logos on the shirts and the stickers on the boats.

Sponsors are vital to the success of a fisherman.

"If you don't have [$100,000] to carry yourself for the year ... entry fees, travel expenses ... if you finish below 10th place in a tournament, your check gets smaller and smaller. If you finish a tour event as a winner, you are going to get [$125,000]. But you have to win a few of those a year to really be making a living. It is a difficult thing," Flesher said.

Difficult, but not impossible, according to Flesher. Prodding him, I asked for the top three things a fisherman can do to "go pro" in the bass world.

"They need the ability to get on the water and spend time to learn the habits of these creatures. Where to go, where they hide, what they eat, what happens when weather changes, when the water changes ... that sort of thing," Flesher said.

OK, so the fisherman/woman needs to know how to catch fish. Check.

"They must be able to market themselves," he said. "If a person can't, then they can't pick up the right sponsors. The ability to gain endorsements is no different than a pro basketball player that endorses Nike shoes. ... They all have to be able to stand up and speak in front of the crowds."

Going pro involves becoming a salesman for your sponsors. Got it.

"Third is a basic understanding of the biology of the fish," Flesher said.

Right, know thy quarry.

Wrapping it all up, Flesher added that the fisherman needs "a lot of money and a lot of sponsors."

Knowledge about bass and bass fishing does not just show up one day with the fishing community. In a large part, bass fishing is a cultural statement.

"Down South, there is a bass boat in every other garage. Where we live, it is not the same," Flesher lamented.

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