When you start talking about bass fishing books, especially ones dealing with bass tournaments, one book leaps immediately to the top of most conversations, Bass Wars: A Story of Fishing, Fame and Fortune, by Nick Taylor (1988). This year, 2013, marks the 25th Anniversary of the publishing of this great book, the first by Taylor in what has become a storied career.
The book takes a close – behind the scenes – look at tournament angling back in the late Eighties. It followed the trail and many of it’s participants, including Rick Clunn, who was at the top of the “food chain” so to speak, in professional angling, Randy Mosely, who was a young rookie trying to break into the sport, and Randy Blaukat, who had already been on the trail for a couple years, yet hadn’t secured that first B.A.S.S. victory (that would come in 1989).
There are a lot of things that make the book a “must” read. Our own Pete Robbins, writing on the 20th Anniversary of the book for Inside Line said, “While he was compassionate where appropriate, Taylor’s status as an outsider to the industry enabled him to point out flaws and blemishes without hesitation. He pointed out prize pots swelled by annuities that wouldn’t mature for years and talked about some of the rivalries and jabs that occurred between anglers…”
For me, one of the things that makes this book as relevant today as it was 25 years ago, is that the players themselves are still relevant. Rick, Roland Martin and Randy are all still fishing events of one sort or another on the professional tournament trail, while other names like Ray Scott, Orlando Wilson and Danny Correia are recent enough to be easily recalled in anglers memories. Simply stated, if you haven’t yet added this book to your angling library, you really need to do so.
In an age where it seems like reality shows and websites are king of the air waves, and personalities are being created out of some of the most unlikely of characters, it surprises me that we haven’t seen more efforts similar to the one that Taylor produced. We were able to contact author Nick Taylor and professional angler Randy Blaukat to get their thoughts on the book and life on the trail 25 years later. Their comments follow:
It’s hard to believe that Bass Wars is twenty-five years old. It was my first book and I still remember how I got hooked, if you’ll excuse the pun. A rainy day on Lake Lanier north of Atlanta, a knockout array of boats and gear, and a carnival barker named Ray Scott presiding over a weigh-in with a patter that put every game show host to shame. Oh, and the tournament winner would take home $100,000.
The B.A.S.S. tournament circuit wasn’t new at that point, but it was new to me and growing. Scott, who founded B.A.S.S. and conceived its tournament format, had his eye on developing a television audience. The whole thing was audacious, and it put fishing in a whole new light. The idea that a fisherman could make a living like a golf pro or a NASCAR driver was something I wanted to explore as a writer.
A year or so later I was heading to Florida to do a magazine piece on the first MegaBucks tournament, which had fisherman moving among lakes like golfers playing a series of holes. This, like the circuit itself, was another of Ray Scott’s ideas – a tournament where some of the action could even be watched by fans on shore. And out on the water, a TV crew was shooting the action.
The same year, book contract in hand, I started traveling to tournaments and getting to know the fishermen. By then I’d moved to New York City, but the tournaments took me back to the country of the small towns where I grew up and coastal Florida where I’d actually done some fishing myself. But I didn’t come to the B.A.S.S. circuit as a fisherman. It was the people who interested me. They were fun to be around, and most of them were willing to put up with a neophyte asking questions that had nothing to do with crankbaits or jigs but tried to get at something else. They were smart, ambitious, hopeful, philosophical, curious, talkative, funny – all the qualities of people you want to hang around with. And Rick Clunn, who at that point had won three Bassmaster Classics, was the most interesting of all.
Rick said things that have stuck with me ever since. Mostly about taking chances. Wondering where his house payments could come from when he quit his day job to join the circuit, he said, “All they can do is take it away from you.” If that’s your attitude, you can do anything.
By then, 1986, the B.A.S.S. circuit was well-established and attracting young fishermen with talent and ambition. Randy Blaukat was among them, Randy Moseley was another. All different personalities, all prey to distraction but some more than others. The pro fishermen – the youngsters and the veterans like Rick and Roland Martin — mirrored every profession you could think of. They could have been concert pianists or brain surgeons. Talent and hard work took you a long way, but focus was the key.
I was pulling for Danny Corriea to win the Classic that year. He was an amateur from Massachusetts, and would have been the youngest Classic winner ever. I enjoyed the time I spent as an observer in his boat. An underdog fan favorite, he came in second and missed winning by only 13 ounces.
After the Classic I went home to write, then flew to Texas for Rick’s fortieth birthday party, postponed from its late July date to accommodate the Classic. The book was published the next year. Since then I’ve written several other books, one on the Mafia, one on the invention of the laser, the most recent a history of the WPA of the 1930s. I helped John Glenn write his autobiography. But Bass Wars sticks with me as much as any of them for its story of entrepreneurial flair, its colorful and thoughtful personalities, and for what I learned.
So the other day I went online, curious to see what Rick was up to lately. Still fishing, forty well in his rearview mirror, but the same thinking I remembered. He was talking about how some fishermen today rely too much on GPS coordinates. “Technology is great,” he said, “but in the long run it cannot replace awareness.”
That’s classic Clunn, I thought. Something you can’t describe, but only feel. Ray Scott moved on, big business moved in; ESPN ran the tournaments and Disney owned ESPN, sponsorships and television are bringing in more money than ever. But Rick’s still embracing the mysteries of nature that draw fishermen to the water in the first place, the lure of fishing that made the whole thing possible.
At the time of Bass Wars, the sport of professional fishing was much different than today.
There was one circuit, and the level of competition was nowhere close to what it is today.
In my case, during my rookie season when Nick Taylor traveled with Randy Mosley and me, my main concern was financial.
I had mowed lawns for several years and worked part time jobs to save up enough money for one season on the BASS Tour. If I didn’t make the Bassmasters Classic and attain some sponsorship, I was done.
At the time Taylor was writing the book, I was 23, young, and inexperienced, but my passion and desire to become a professional angler literally propelled me to scratch and claw my way into the Classic.
I didn’t have a lot of time on the water as compared to many of the pros, because I couldn’t afford to go that much.
But I made up for it by being an excellent caster (won the Bass Pro Shops National Casting Championships in 1992), and I controlled what I could that didn’t cost a lot of money.
This talent, and the years of dreaming and focusing on becoming a professional, seemed to encourage the Universe to give me the breaks I needed to succeed.
No doubt, if I hadn’t made the Classic, I would not have been able to make a career out of it, that I still am fortunate enough to participate in.
Mosely was one of the best anglers I had ever met. He had a talent for locating fish that few could match. His challenge was focus. Like myself, he was young and full of the zest of life, and enjoyed partying as much as fishing. Women loved him.
Moseley was different than me, in the fact I loved to fish, and he didn’t. He loved making money fishing, but not the process. This was eventually his downfall, because in order to be successful at this sport, you have to love it, and love to fish and catch fish.
If he would have had the passion and focus, Mosley could have been one of the all-time greats. His natural ability to find and catch fish quickly on new water was incredible.
At the time, Clunn and I were not friends, and I hadn’t met him. We later became close friends. Like many anglers, I was drawn to his approach, because it bordered on the magical and mysterious. He was at the top of his game when this book was written. I was a unheard-of nobody. I admired the image he had created.
Bass Wars marked the end of an era, so to speak, in terms of the loss of innocence in the sport. The years following the book, and even til today, have seen an overpopulation of anglers claiming to be “pros”, or wanting to be “pros’.
This overpopulation was created by too many tournaments and too many tournament circuits that were “for Profit” organizations.
The result of this was a small group of anglers hogging up the majority of the sponsorship pie that is out there, leaving the majority of the anglers to fend for the crumbs, and struggle unless they are financially independent….which is the theme of today’s professional angling.
Looking back, the year Nick Taylor traveled with us was filled with excitement, anxiety and uncertainty – but it has stayed with me all these years.