- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2002

There's trouble in bass fishing paradise. Only a few months after ESPN bought the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (it includes a prestigious tournament circuit, a number of publications, the Bassmasters TV series and a dues-paying, loyal BASS membership base of more than half a million anglers) a revolt is brewing among the ranks of professional fishermen in BASS-sanctioned cast-for-cash events.
When ESPN/BASS wanted to make some changes on the Bassmaster tournament trail, the pros decided to let their "union," the Professional Anglers Association (PAA), do all the talking for them. Not only that, a 10-man BASS Athlete Advisory Council that consulted with ESPN concerning tournament procedures has resigned.
A letter from the Advisory Council was sent to ESPN and its Montgomery, Ala. BASS headquarters stating that some of the tournament format changes ESPN/BASS planned on making were "not well suited to the anglers in general."
The council also told ESPN/BASS that "all future negotiations on the terms and conditions of the 2003 tour must be negotiated on the anglers' behalf by the PAA." The latter organization added, "In the 30-year history of professional angling, this is the first time that the anglers as a body have taken a position of this magnitude."
There's much chuckling over all this, some of it probably coming from no less a person than the founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, Ray Scott, under whose watch this would never have happened.
Then there are the upstarts, the youngsters on the BASS Tour, who don't belong to the PAA. They would love to see some of the big-name competitors stay home, which would increase their chances of earning a check. And you can bet your last spinnerbait that the competing FLW Tour, a national bass fishing tournament group headed by financier and boat manufacturer Irving Jacobs, doesn't mind all the hubbub.
Scott, who sold the original BASS company to a group of trusted employees years ago, wanted to continue in an active role, fully aware that his immense popularity among American fishermen could only help the BASS group.
But ESPN distanced itself from the outspoken Scott, and things haven't been the same since. ESPN has done a housecleaning job at BASS headquarters. The tournament director, Dewey Kendrick, was kicked sideways, and Kendrick's underling, Trip Weldon, promoted to take his boss's job. The CEO of BASS, Helen Sevier, has disappeared. Sevier's secretary, Ann Smith, who knew where every skeleton at BASS was buried, is gone, as are others.
Then you must consider that BASS's now resigned 10-man advisory council is made up of the biggest names in pro bass fishing. Imagine having an advisory group of top golfers who work with the PGA on matters of tournament rules, formats and purses and the PGA group quits in a huff.
In the bass world you have the top guns in the sport Paul Elias, Rick Clunn, Kevin VanDam, Denny Brauer, Ray Sedgwick, Mark Davis, Gary Klein, Larry Nixon, Peter Thliveros and Jay Yelas comprising the fishermen's advisory council. Six of them are former world champion BASS Masters Classic winners. The board was elected last year by an ESPN ballot sent to the pros who fish the Bassmaster Tour. After the balloting was completed, the pro fishermen asked ESPN to simply replace the 10-man council with the nine-man PAA board, but ESPN refused.
ESPN and BASS officials have met with the 10-man council during each tour event. Details of these meetings haven't been released, but word leaked out that the meetings encompassed the wholesale restructuring of the Bassmaster Tour schedule and at least a partial restructuring of the payout format.
There also was sniping among some bass pros who weren't on the advisory council charging that the panel and ESPN struck deals that appeared to benefit only experienced anglers. It's possible that's why the council resigned, even as PAA executive director Scott Laney says no.
"In fact, this should serve to dispel the rumors that have been circulating that somehow the Advisory Council and ESPN were of one mind on these changes, which most of the anglers would have considered less than optimal," he said.
Laney fired a shot at ESPN when he said, "Some significant changes in angler compensation and tour format need to occur before the PAA can recommend [the Bassmaster] tour to our members."
Meanwhile, the Bassmasters are coming to the Potomac next month amid complaints that ESPN/BASS displays lousy timing. The money fishermen will be here when the local bass population is in the middle of its annual spawning ritual not exactly a desirable time to conduct a fishing tournament and move roe-laden females from their nests to be weighed miles and miles from the spawning site.

Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Friday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]


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