All about the bass

Bass fishing in the USA is big business; in fact it’s a multi-billion dollar industry with top-level televised tournaments, pro anglers and sponsorship galore. It’s a far cry from its beginnings 100-plus years ago but bass are now the most sought-after fish in North America.

There are quite a few fish that go by the name ‘bass’, found in both fresh and saltwater but, for the purposes of this article, we’ll be concentrating on the black bass, which includes – but is not limited to – largemouth, smallmouth and spotted varieties.

First casts

Bass fishing in the USA largely evolved on its own with little outside influence. While well-heeled anglers mainly targeted salmon and trout on the fly, bass were seen as a more working-class fish, caught using rod and line and sometimes for food rather than for sport.

By the end of the 19th century, most live baits had been replaced by artificial fly patterns and then lures and spinners followed in the mid-20th century by plastic worms and it was this development that, arguably, revolutionised bass fishing.

With the expansion of the US’ railroad system, there were a large number of tank ponds built to provide water for steam engines and towns began to develop alongside these watering stops.

The hardy largemouth bass were often stocked in these ponds and warmer lakes, while smallmouth bass were distributed to lakes and rivers throughout the northern and western United States.

Largemouth bass populations boomed after the US Department of Agriculture began to help farmers build and stock farm ponds with largemouth bass and soon they had found their way into many reservoirs.

A post-war fishing boom across the USA saw fishing licence revenues rise dramatically, further encouraging bass fishery management.

Bass love warm waters, making them thrive in the southern states while many eastern and northern trout rivers silted up, killing off the native brook trout but providing great conditions for smallmouth bass, in particular.

On the rise

One of the big attractions for anglers, of course, is that bass take baits (real and artificial) readily and put up a great fight when hooked. They are also so widespread – inhabiting lakes, ponds, reservoirs, rivers, streams and creeks.

Naturally, this popularity has led to a surge in all manner of dedicated tackle and baits or lures.

From rods and reels to hooks and lines, bass tackle is a massive market, made even larger by the preference of many anglers to use boats, so the sector has expanded to also include trolling motors, anchors and fish finders or depth locators.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation, largemouth bass are the number one sportfish in the USA, with almost a third of all freshwater fishing days accounting for them.

Add in smallmouth, striped, white, sunshine and hybrids and the lure of the bass becomes clear.

That’s about 117 million days of targeting largemouth bass with an estimated 9.5 million fishermen casting a line foo them each year.

Expert analysts Southwick Associates actually put the largemouth bass as making up about 40 per cent of all freshwater fishing in 2019.

And it believes the value of annual tackle purchases for largemouth bass totals a cool $2.97 billion (according to 2019 figures).

Not surprisingly, given the vast economic value of these species and fishing disciplines, bass fishing has seeped out around the world, with various species being stocked in other countries as an attractive – and lucrative – sport.

Competitive elements

While most species around the world inspire competitions, the bass tournament scene is one of the most lucrative and hotly contested and organisations have sprung up around it in ever greater numbers.

Two of the largest are BASS and its tournament circuit and Major League Fishing, which merged with Fishing League Worldwide in 2019.

B.A.S.S., which encompasses the Bassmaster tournament leagues, events and media platforms, is the worldwide authority on bass fishing and keeper of the culture of the sport, providing cutting edge content on bass fishing whenever, wherever and however bass fishing fans want to use it.

Headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, the organisation boasts a membership of 515,000 and covers the sport through a combination of media platforms including magazines (Bassmaster and B.A.S.S. Times), its Bassmaster website, TV and radio shows, social media programs and events.

For more than 50 years, B.A.S.S. has been dedicated to access, conservation and youth fishing.

The Bassmaster Tournament Trail includes prestigious events at each level of competition, including the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bassmaster Opens Series, TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Series, Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops, Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors, Bassmaster Team Championship, Bassmaster B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series powered by TourneyX presented by Abu Garcia and the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing, the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, presented by Huk.

Fishing League Worldwide / Major League Fishing

Fishing League Worldwide, better known as FLW, is the world’s largest tournament-fishing organisation, providing unparalleled resources and opportunities for anglers, sponsors, fans and host communities.
FLW is committed to providing a lifestyle experience that is the best in fishing, on and off the water, through a variety of platforms, including major tournaments, family-friendly expos, television, industry-leading live streaming video, a cutting-edge website, insightful magazine content and social media with more than one million fans.

Fishing League Worldwide was acquired by Major League Fishing in November 2019. The acquisition was the most significant brand merger in competitive bass fishing history, linking an innovative tour and original, award-winning programming featuring the top professional anglers in the world to the extensive grassroots organization that serves tens of thousands of competitive anglers from high school and college students to weekenders and tour pros.

Last September, Major League Fishing (MLF) announced its full unification with Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) as one brand, transitioning all FLW brands to MLF and forming the MLF Big5.