Competitive bass fishing has a history that dates back to 1955 when a group of anglers in Texas started the Texas State Bass Tournament. Not long after that in 1960 Hy Peskin started his World Series of Sportfishing which took state champions from all over the east through the Midwest and pitted them against each other in an international championship event. The problem with this event was the rules were always a moving target and the anglers could weigh in essentially any fish, as long as they had fins – although black bass took more points than the other creatures.
Then in 1967 a man by the name of Ray Scott changed all of that. Rained out of a day’s fishing one day he sat in his hotel and envisioned bass fishing being a sport much like bowling or golf – a professional sport where anglers could become stars and make a living by casting and catching bass. By 1968 the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society was born.
By the early ‘70s bass fishing organizations across the United States started popping up – mimicking the model Scott had developed only years earlier. Organizations like the Bass Caster’s Association, Project Sports INC, National Bass Association and in the west, Western Bass Fishing Association. Another one of these organizations was American Angler.
Originally a magazine that started in the winter of 1974 in concert with the television series of the same name, American Angler became a tournament series shortly thereafter. As discussed in Clyde Drury’s Books of the Black Bass, American Angler was first published by Phil Jay out of Lufkin, Texas then sold to W. O. (Bill) Roberts shortly after. Then Roberts sold the Magazine, television show and tournament circuit to John Fox in 1978. Fox sold the magazine and tournament circuit to National Bass Association in the summer of 1979 and the magazine was discontinued.
What I found fascinating about the magazines I have – a smattering of magazines from mid-1977 through 1979 – were the tournament reports. It’s obvious that American Angler was attempting to compete with B.A.S.S. and by the looks of the anglers fishing their events, they were doing a good job. During the 1977 tournament year they had seven events topped off with a championship event called the Grand American.
To look at the standings for each event would be akin to looking at any Bassmaster leaderboard. The top anglers in the United States competed in the American Angler series. As stated in the piece we did a couple weeks ago regarding NBA, American Angler offered yet another professional level tournament circuit for those who were trying to make a living as a professional angler.
Looking at the 1977 tournament and payout schedule left me with some questions, though. Payouts for the events were advertised at $10,000 ($6,000 cash and a boat/motor/trailer) for 1st place, $4,000 cash for 2nd place, $3,000 cash for 3rd place down the line for a 250-angler field. Looking into the standings, though, they were paying $5,000 ($1,000 cash and the boat) for 1st place, $1,800 cash for 2nd place and $1,200 cash for 3rd place. The only tournament report I found where they mentioned the total number of anglers fishing was the third event of the season where 98 anglers participated. That small number of anglers is more than likely the reason for the short payouts.
In the coming weeks we’ll be talking more about American Angler and its tournament circuit – starting off with a rundown of the 1977 tournament season. We hope you enjoy the look back at yet another tournament circuit that helped carve the way for today’s tournament angling and related associations.