In the fledgling years of professional bass tournaments, most guys were hoping to catch enough fish so they could pay their bills to make it to the next event. Today, the sport has sprouted albatross wings and soared to garish new heights that even the greatest optimist couldn’t have foreseen even a decade ago.

Talk about a kick in the bass.

Thanks to good-old American ingenuity and massive corporate sponsorship, competitive bass fishing has become a pastime that transcends borders east to west and north to south. It crosses cultural lines and brings people together in a way few things can. Simply put, a guy fishing the Great Lakes region for smallies probably has more in common with a largemouth angler from Alabama than members of the same political party do.

And while there’s no doubt the pastime is here to stay, there is one thing that is up for debate: Are professional anglers athletes?

By definition, an athlete is someone trained or skilled in sports or games requiring physical prowess and stamina. When it comes to competitive angling, I dare anyone to say these men and women don’t meet these requirements. Professional anglers put in hours upon end at their craft, something that likely would wear out most weekend anglers.

It’s kind of like golf. You have plenty of folks out there who might get in a couple of rounds of 18 on a Saturday and Sunday before they have to go back to the office on Monday. But if they only had to focus on the links, they likely would get burned out or not be as successful over the long haul. I’d say that’s where the stamina element comes into play. Working a heavy-action baitcasting rod on a day off is much different than using one to put money in the bank during a 10-hour day when the fish don’t want to cooperate.

As far as physical prowess, most professional anglers have mastered some art form with a flick of the wrist, whether it’s flipping, pitching, sight fishing or any other number of disciplines that aren’t easy to perfect.

It’s no different than a left-handed reliever who makes a living on his off-speed pitch in the seventh inning or the pro golfer who has learned that his short game can make up for a lack of length off the tee.

At the end of the day, professional anglers are at the top of the list when it comes to making adjustments to what is thrown at them, much like any other athlete does in their particular line of work.

If it’s the competition that makes an athlete, there’s plenty to go around on the water. Just watch the upcoming Bassmaster Classic on TV and count how many guttural yells are elicited by anglers hauling in decent-size fish. Then count the number of high-pitched screams that a sure-enough lunker will produce when a vise-grip is placed on its lips and it’s hoisted for the camera.

If you haven’t seen a grown man gush at least once about a big, green fish he ultimately intends to turn loose, then you’re missing out.

While you may not agree that professional anglers are true athletes, there’s sure to be plenty of chances to examine them in their exploits. Competitive bass fishing is as American a pursuit as there is.

In the words of four-time Bassmaster Classic winner Rick Clunn, “Only in America can we follow our dream of chasing little green fish.”


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