It costs a professional angler anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000 to participate in a year of professional bass angling. That’s a big number by anyone’s reckoning, and whether you win the big tournaments or not, it takes you away from home for about one-third of the year. No matter how good your equipment and skills are, the results are ultimately out of your control. The weather and fishing conditions determine the catch, weight and everything else. If it were just about that, no one would ever consider it as a career; but for the pros who fished in the 2015 Toyota Texas Bass Classic it was about so much more.
The wannabes are weeded out well ahead of the tournament where 35 of the world’s best bass fishermen compete at Lake Fork in Quitman, TX. The invitational spots are filled by the top anglers from the FLW and the Bass Elite Series. Their combined winnings prior to the Classic were over $56-million and their stats included 190 major tournament wins and 19 Angler of the Year awards. But, as with any sport no one cares about what you’ve done before. That’s only the price of admission.
The people of Texas are perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of the Bass Classic and Toyota’s commitment to the outdoors. Each year, Texas Parks & Wildlife receives $250,000 for its educational programs, through Toyota’s regional distributor, Gulf States Toyota.
This year the wet Texas spring added another layer to the challenge. It was cold, rainy, muddy and unpleasant; so much so that the non-fishing events that surrounded the event were cancelled entirely. Even with all of the obstacles, the tournament winner, Brent Ehrler, brought in a 10 lb. 11 oz. bruiser for his last catch of the day. That brought him to a three-day total of 89 lbs. 12 oz., which was good enough to claim the prize, estimated at about $150,000 including a 2015 Toyota Tundra with all the trimmings, a big check and a range of other prizes.
One of the anglers, John Crews was enjoying his third invitation to the Classic. He did well enough (at 78 lbs. 8 oz.) to capture seventh place. I fished with him on a practice day and got a taste of the life he leads. Crews is 36 years old and based out of Virginia. Married for ten years, he has two children and a stepson. He didn’t grow up in a fishing family, and it didn’t sound as though he expected any of the children to follow in his wake.
It is his self-motivated competitiveness and attentiveness to detail that he says make him a good fit for bass fishing. “You need to be able to concentrate and observe astutely because it may come down to the placement of a blade of grass”, he added, noting that there is still a lot of trial and error involved.
“…a combination of instinct and experience”, he explained when asked whether bass fishing was more intuition or technology today. Crews’ boat is a Basscat, and with the trailer and all of his gear weighs in at about 3500-lbs. It is completely outfitted with the latest in technology and he tows it with a 2014 Toyota Tundra, even though the vehicle manufacturer is not one of his sponsors.
“This is my second Tundra…before it was a 2011, and I couldn’t be more pleased,” he said, noting that the only thing missing is a diesel version. “I will stick with the Tundra either way but for the long-drive highway trips a diesel could improve the fuel efficiency, I think,” he adds. Comfort is also big factor when you are driving from California to Virginia in three days, which is a pretty typical trip for him.
As we sat in his boat checking for pockets where fish appeared on the navigational screen, and talking about previous catches that weighed in at 10, 11 or 12 lbs., Crews said that the best weather for the tournament would be dry with little or no wind. So much for wishes.