The results from the 1993 Texas Invitational remind me of Paul Elias:
My Elias fixation may seem odd. He didn’t have a poor tournament at Rayburn in 1993, finishing tied for 24th among a stout field of competitors, but his performance didn’t stand out.
What got me thinking about this tournament in particular was the way in which Elias introduced the world to the Alabama Rig this past fall. Clearly a bunch of in-the-know anglers had been employing the A-Rig for quite a while, but his win in the Guntersville FLW served as the rig’s coming out party. Indeed, his victory inspired not just a shot in the arm to certain segments of the tackle industry, but also a revived debate about what is ethical, sportsmanlike and even legal in tournament competition.
I tried to remember the last time a product had made such a big splash. My first thoughts were back to the Senko, which has had a huge impact on bass fishing over the past decade, but it didn’t have a true “a-ha” moment like Elias and the A-Rig. Then I thought of Kelly Jordon’s use of the big Lake Fork flutter spoon on Ultimate Match Fishing. It was parallel insofar as a number of pros were secretly using them until KJ let the cat out of the bag, but the big spoon has limited applicability and didn’t inspire the same sort of talk of its game-changing nature.
Then I thought back to the 1993 Invitational at Rayburn, won by longtime Texas pro Randy Dearman. At the time, Dearman’s lone BASS victory was notable because he set the three-day BASS record for five-bass limits with his 67-13 catch. Post-Falcon, Amistad and the California Delta, that record may seem paltry, but he beat out a lot of top-flight anglers to get there, so its importance shouldn’t be diminished.
The record and the $35,000 top prize probably satisfied Dearman but what truly made the win one for the record books was that it was the first national-level victory in which the winner credited his catch to the use of braided line.
As Steve Price wrote in the June 1993 issue of Bassmaster, almost as a throwaway paragraph at the end of his tournament summary: “Dearman’s only trick was to do his flipping with 80-pound Spectra – a new line just now being introduced in bass fishing. Originally designed for kite-flying, it has the diameter and limpness of 25-pound-test mono but will straighten a jig hook or pull up a bush before it breaks. Dearman didn’t change line all week.”
In that same issue of Bassmaster, Don Wirth wrote a feature about the new superlines in which he used language that is eerily paralleled by the press about the A-Rig. “Some pros have fished with (braided line) for over a year but it wasn’t until Onalaska, Texas, pro Randy Dearman won the March 1993 Texas Bassmaster Invitational at Ram Rayburn Reservoir that the lid blew off one of the most hushed-up new product developments in fishing history.”
At the time, Texans Terry Oldham and Ron Totten were the only ones marketing the line, but the article made clear that the big boys of line manufacturing were on the case and would market similar products shortly. Dale Barnes, then the marketing manufacturer for Fenwick, “liken(ed) the impact of the new braided line technology to Fenwick’s introduction of graphite fishing rods in the early 1970s.” In fact, he went so far as to predict that “Nothing that has hit the industry has had remotely the impact this line wil have.”
Dearman’s victory was less than 20 years ago, but seems a lifetime away. How many presentations have been improved through the use of braid? Moreover, how many techniques are there today where you wouldn’t think of using anything else but braid? Frogging and flipping matted vegetation immediately come to mind – 20 to 30 pound mono was the standard-bearer before. That’s a huge upgrade in efficiency right there — maybe not revolutionary, but certainly a major change in the sport.