Bass fishing is the activity of angling for the North American gamefish known colloquially as the black bass. There are numerous black bass species considered as gamefish in North America, including largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieui), spotted bass or Kentucky bass (Micropterus punctulatus), and Guadalupe bass (order Perciformes).
Modern bass fishing has evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry. The sport has changed drastically since its beginnings in the late 19th century. From humble beginnings, the black bass has become the second most specifically sought-after game fish in the United States. The sport has driven the development of all manner of fishing gear, including rods, reels, lines, lures, electronic depth and fish-finding instruments, drift boats, float tubes, also boats specified for bass fishing.
All black bass are well known as strong fighters and are fished recreationally. Depending upon species and various other factors such as water quality and availability of food, black bass may be found in lakes, reservoirs, ponds, rivers, streams, creeks, even roadside ditches. Largemouth are known for their greater overall size and resistance when hooked, favoring short, powerful runs and escape to cover such as submerged logs or weedbeds, while smallmouth bass tend to jump more and fight aggressively on the surface when hooked, in order to throw the hook.
All black bass are scent as well as visual predators so care should be taken to ensure no foreign scents, like bug spray, or any outdoor chemicals, or any personal chemicals, like tobacco, contaminate one's hands when handling your line, reels, rods, artificial baits, and particularly soft plastics. Bass are usually filleted when taken for the table; the flesh is white and flaky, with a mild taste when cooked.
Bass fishing in the United States largely evolved on its own, and was not influenced by angling developments in Europe or other parts of the world. Indeed, modern British sea bass fishermen look to the United States freshwater bass techniques for inspiration for lure fishing and to the USA, Japan and China for tackle. During the early-to-mid-19th century, wealthy sport anglers in the United States (mostly located in the northeastern portion of the country) largely confined themselves to trout and salmon fishing using fly rods. While smallmouth bass were sought by some fly fishermen, most bass fishing was done by sustenance anglers using poles and live bait. The working-class heritage of bass fishing strongly influenced the sport and is manifested even today in its terminology, hobbyist literature, and media coverage.
In the mid-19th century, the first artificial lure used for bass was developed in the form of an artificial fly. At first, these artificial fly patterns were largely derivations of existing trout and salmon flies. As time went on, new fly patterns were specifically developed to fish for bass, as well as heavier spinner/fly lures that could be cast by the baitcasting and fixed-spool casting reels and rods available at the time. Floating wooden lures (plugs) or poppers of lightweight cork or balsa were introduced around 1900, sometimes combined with hooks dressed with artificial fur or feathers. Production of the plastic worm began in 1949, but it was not until the 1960s that its use became popular. The plastic worm revolutionized the sport of bass fishing.
In the United States, the sport of bass fishing was greatly advanced by the stocking of largemouth and smallmouth bass outside their native ranges in the latter portion of the 19th century. As the nation's railroad system expanded, large numbers of 'tank' ponds were built by damming various small creeks that intersected the tracks in order to provide water for steam engines; later, new towns often sprang up alongside these water stops. Shippers found that black bass were a hardy species that could be transported in buckets or barrels via the railroad, sometimes using the spigot from the railroad water tank to aerate the fingerlings.
Largemouth bass were often stocked in tank ponds and warmer lakes, while smallmouth bass were distributed to lakes and rivers throughout the northern and western United States, as far west as California. Smallmouth were transplanted east of the Appalachians just before the Civil War, and afterwards introduced into New England.
Largemouth bass populations boomed after the U.S. Department of Agriculture began to advise and assist farmers in constructing and stocking farm ponds with largemouth bass, even offering advice on managing various fish species. Soon, those who had stocked largemouth bass on their farm ponds began to pursue them on a burgeoning number of new reservoirs and impoundments built in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s. These impoundments coincided with a postwar fishing boom, additional funds from sales of fishing licenses for the first large-scale attempts at bass fisheries management. This was especially true in the southern United States, where the largemouth bass thrived in waters too warm or turbid for other types of gamefish.
With increased industrialization and development, many of the nation's eastern trout rivers were dammed, polluted, or allowed to silt up, raising water temperatures and killing off the native brook trout. Smallmouth bass were often introduced to northern rivers now too warm for native trout, and slowly became a popular gamefish with many anglers. Equally adaptable to large, cool-water impoundments and reservoirs, the smallmouth also spread far beyond its original native range. Later, smallmouth populations also began to decline after years of damage caused by overdevelopment and industrial and agricultural pollution, as well as a loss of river habitat caused by damming many formerly wild rivers in order to form lakes or reservoirs. In recent years, a renewed emphasis on preserving water quality and riparian habitat in the nation's rivers and lakes, together with stricter management practices, eventually benefited smallmouth populations and has caused a resurgence in their popularity with anglers.
Rise of modern bass fishing
By the early 20th century, bass fishing had been well established as a sport with its own following. Though the use of artificial lures for bass had begun with the artificial fly and fly fishing tackle, the bait casting rod and reel soon came to dominate the sport. Although fixed-spool reels were introduced in use in the United States as early as the 1870s, spinning reels and rods did not gain wide acceptance as an angling tool until the 1950s. Since that time, most bass anglers have used bait casting or spinning tackle, using either artificial lures or live bait (See Fishing rod, Fishing reel).
During the 1950s and 1960s, the development of specific angling tools for bass significantly increased angler bass catches and helped stimulate the development of the sport. Some of these innovations include the invention of monofilament nylon fishing lines, the fiberglass (later graphite composite) fishing rod, the electric trolling motor, the fish finder/depth locator, and new artificial lures and baits made of various plastics. Recently, advanced electronics that mimic the sounds of schooling bait fish have been introduced, and a controversy has arisen over the proper use of these devices in bass tournament fishing.
Since the early 1990s, fly fishing for bass, particularly smallmouth bass, has again become popular, using fly patterns, rods, and fly lines suited for bass. The Largemouth Bass is the most common sport fish in America. Many people are unaware that fly fishing is a growing source of bass catching, specifically in places where trophy bass are available such as Southern California and San Diego. Here prime Florida largemouth are some of the largest in the world and some of the toughest to catch. Several well known bass fishermen have been attracting attention to the fishery. Local fly shops offer services to pursue the fish which can be challenging. There are several very well known bass lakes here including; Lake Dixon, Lake Jennings, Miramar Reservoir, and Lake Murray (California).
Fishermen, conservation groups, and governmental wildlife departments have introduced black bass of various species across the world for the sport of fishing. Outside North America, Japan and South Africa have active programs. Bass fishing as a sport was helped along by the chase for the standing world record which has held for over 75 years. Though surrounded by controversy it is widely accepted that in 1932 a 22 pound 4 ounce bass was caught by George Perry in Montgomery Lake, Georgia. It is one of the longest standing records in the sport of fishing. This record was tied on July 2, 2009 when Aichi Japan resident Manabu Kurita caught a 22 pound 4 ounce largemouth bass in Lake Biwa.
The increasing popularity of the sport combined with "catch and release" practices have in some cases led to an overpopulation of bass.
An overpopulated, stunted bass population can best be detected in the spring when all the bass are at least one year old. If virtually all the bass are 4 inches long or smaller, the population is probably stunted. Some indicators that a bass population is overpopulated:
(a) The largemouth bass caught are all less than 1 pound and are "skinny". (b) The bluegills are 1/2 pound and larger (too large for the bass to eat). An overpopulation and/or stunting of bass may be caused by several factors including: (a) Not enough bass being harvested. (b) Too few bluegill or redear sunfish were stocked initially or they are failing to reproduce and the bass population does not have an adequate food supply.
It is posited that the easiest way to control an overpopulation of largemouth bass is by increasing the take of bass. This is clearly an effective method of thinning the bass population providing recreation at the same time. It may take two to three years to bring the population back into balance. If forage fish are scarce, stock adult bluegill or redear sunfish (7 to 8 inches long). These fish will be too large to be eaten by the bass. The large panfish will spawn in the spring and produce a supply of forage.
Black bass should not be confused with a multitude of unrelated fish species found around the world and called "bass", such as the butterfly peacock bass (Cichla ocellaris), speckled peacock bass (Cichla temensis), Papuan black bass (Lutjanus goldiei) (also called Niugini bass), Australian bass, rock bass (Ambloplites rupestris), American striped bass, and British sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax).
In modern bass fishing competitions, caught bass are placed in a live well, and released as soon as caught and weighed by officials. Competitors are penalized heavily for dead fish and in some cases dead fish are not weighed. Fish turned in for weighing are immediately released or placed in tanks and treated for stress and glyco-protein (slime coat) injury, then released back into the water.
There are several major bass fishing competitions in the United States, with the two most dominant circuits being Bassmasters and the FLW series.
- The Bassmaster Tournament Trail is organized by the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS). It was started by Ray Scott, the "father" of competitive bass fishing. First held in 1969, today, professionals like Michael Iaconelli, Kevin VanDam, Aaron Martens, Rick Clunn, Cliff Pace, and Luke Clausen are household names to many American sports fans. There are 12 events in which the top 50 anglers compete. The top prize in the Bassmaster Classic is $500,000.
- The Walmart FLW Tour was named after Forrest L. Wood of Ranger Boats fame. The top prize of the Forrest Wood Cup is $1 million. Both tours are nationally televised on networks like ESPN and Fox Sports Net, and covered extensively by news media.
- American Bass Anglers (ABA), formerly the Military Bass Anglers Association, award National championship tournament winners with a Triton Bass boat and Championship ring amongst other prizes. Thomas Wayne Jones, Sr., from Springfield Tennessee won the 2007 ABA National championship.
- On the West Coast, WON BASS has been the main regional circuit in operation since the 1980s. Annually, WON BASS conducts the U.S. Open of Bass Fishing at Lake Mead, Nevada, which pays back nearly $500,000 per event. This is a test of both angling skill and endurance as the anglers compete for 3 days in the scorching hot sun and windy conditions of the Mojave Desert. Renowned anglers Ricky Clunn, Byron Velvick, Aaron Martens, and Gary Klein have all been crowned champions during the Open's 25-year history.
The state of Illinois was the first to make competitive bass fishing a state-sanctioned high school sport in 2009. They offer 22 sectional tournaments which cater to 250 high school teams across the state. Teams which qualify at the sectional level compete for the state title in May.
States across the country have taken to Illinois' lead. Kentucky was the second to follow suit in 2012. Private groups have seen the opportunity to grow the industry as well through exposure of high school student to tournament bass fishing. The Bass Federation, for example, offers high school tournament series in over 40 states, eventually crowning a State Champion and giving them the opportunity to compete on the national level.
The FLW College Series includes three regional qualifiers in each of the five regions of the United States denoted by FLW. The top fifteen finishing teams in each of these regional qualifiers advance to the Regional Invitational tournament and have an opportunity to advance to the FLW College National Championship and fish for a place in the following year's Forrest L Woods Cup Professional Bass Tournament.
Similarly, the Bassmaster College Series divides the nation into 5 regions. They only offer one qualifying opportunity at the regional level as opposed to the three offered by the FLW College Series. The top 15 from each of the 5 regional qualifiers advance directly to the Bassmaster College Series National Champion and compete for a position in the following year's Bassmaster Classic.
The Cabelas Collegiate Bass Fishing Series is compiled of numerous tournaments accredited by the Association of Collegiate Anglers. The tournaments range in size from 20-30 boats all the way up to 100+ boats. The Cabelas Collegiate Bass Fishing Series compiles a ranking of "School of the Year" points, which are often coveted by schools across the country. These points are gathered through successful tournament finishes in tournaments recognized by the Association of Collegiate Anglers. Cabelas Collegiate Bass Fishing Series also hosts a large-scale national open. This is not the only one of its kind, as BoatUS also hosts a similar "National Championship." Unlike the Bassmaster College Series and FLW College Series National Championships, these require no qualification from regional tournaments, and can be entered simply by signing up and paying the entry fee.
The Indiana University was the first to establish a tournament fishing club in 1989, with Purdue University creating one soon afterwards. The University of Illinois was third to make a tournament bass fishing student organization, and the trend has grown tremendously ever since.
Competitive bass fishing has also spread to anglers in other countries such as Japan, Korea, Italy, Australia and South Africa. Takahiro Omori, a Japanese angler living in Texas, won the 2004 Bassmaster Classic title. Australian tournaments are based on a native freshwater fish called Australian bass that is unrelated to largemouth bass.
Professional bass angling
With the rise in popularity of competitive bass fishing came the multibillion-dollar industry of professional bass angling. The rise in popularity and the companies that have supported the sport have now made it possible to turn bass angling into a professional sport. A professional bass angler is a person who competes in bass fishing pro circuit and may also have company sponsorships. Some famous pro circuits include Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS), Walmart FLW Tour, and the Professional Anglers Association Tour (PAA).
Professional bass anglers are not able to simply sign up for these professional circuits. The angler must compete and win local and smaller events to in order create a reputation. Many professional bass anglers also get company sponsorships. These sponsorships help fund the expenses of being a bass angler. In turn the angler is also promoting the company that they are sponsored by. Being a professional bass angler is a full-time job. When the angler is not competing it is essential to attend public seminars and give presentations. It is the anglers job to market himself in order for the sponsors to become a more well known company.
Some of the most famous names in professional bass angling are Ray Scott, Kevin VanDam, and Mike Iaconelli. Ray Scott is the founder of Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, otherwise known as BASS. Ray Scott started BASS in 1967 and has paved the way for professional circuits by starting the BASS Tournament Trail. Kevin VanDam is a professional competition angler who has won the BASSMASTER Classic four times. He also gained great fame by being named Angler of the Year in 1992. Mike Iaconelli is a professional competition angler in the BASS Elite Series, who has made a name for himself by winning BASSMASTER Classic and the Toyota Elite Series AOY
Professional bass angling salaries fluctuate greatly depending on how marketable the angler is, in 2006 Kevin VanDam made $500,000 from his sponsors while Mike Iaconelli made $370,000. This does not include the prize money from winning competitions. Although there are some professionals that earn this much money, it is not the case for all of them. Gene Ellison the executive director of the Professional Anglers Association is quoted saying, "more than half of the guys out here this weekend are going broke", during the BASSMASTER Classic of 2006.
In recent years the sport has not only reached out to men but to women as well. There is a large following of women bass fishing who are trying to become professional and have their own women circuit. The Lady Bass Anglers Association was started for just that purpose. They aspire to create an industry in which women are able to compete professionally and help push the boundaries of professional bass angling.
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