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WBT Anglers to Have New Options
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WBT Anglers to Have New Options

Multiple Tournament Trails Emerge to Give Ladies Options After Discontinuation of the WBT, Including The American Lady Anglers.

By Terri Elkins, M.D.


(March 9, 2010 – Red Oak, TX) Rod Baker, husband and Bass Caddy of WBT Pro Boater Dr. Terri Elkins was shocked to hear from one of his buddies, Lake Fork Guide Lee White, that ESPN/BASS had announced the discontinuation of the Academy Sports and Outdoors Women’s Bassmaster Tour on Monday, January 4, 2010. He was shocked, but not surprised. “I felt during the whole 2009 WBT tournament season that this was the last one, but I hoped that I was wrong”, says Baker. “But when I started thinking about what those ladies endured in order to fish, I got mad. Some of them sleep in their trucks and tents, and had to take shelter in camp restrooms at 1 am during severe storms with local tornados, and then get up at four to fish the tournament. I felt that, with that kind of dedication, there should be something out there for them to stay together and fish.” Anyone who knows Rod will agree, when he feels like something should be done, he takes whatever steps necessary to make it happen.

Rod was not the only one among the former WBT family who felt it necessary to take action.  All across the country, former WBT anglers were taking steps to ensure that they would get to fish together again in 2010, and not just wait it out until next year.  The clock was obviously ticking, as the New Year had already begun.  Anyone involved in tournament fishing would probably agree that it would take some time to put together a tournament tour.  Not so with Sabrina Thompson, (Humble, TX), former WBT Non-Boater, and member of The International Federation of Black Bass Anglers (IFBBA), who put together a four-stop tour using the former WBT fishing dates in a matter of only a couple of weeks.  Also not so with Secret York, (Benton, KY) and Cheryl Bowden, (Plano, TX), both WBT Boaters who arranged both a tournament and a national meeting of the former WBT anglers at Kentucky Lake in May. 

The first thing in the minds of all of the WBT anglers was their obligation to their Sponsors.  Dollars had already been spent, boats wrapped, tournament shirts bought, lake maps and supplies long-purchased, and reservations made.  Immediately after receiving the email sent out to inform the women that they would no longer be fishing the WBT, the ladies got to work.  Everyone in the WBT had to find tournaments to fish that would fulfill their obligations to promote their Sponsors.  There was never any question in anyone’s mind of quitting; it was only one of where they could fish and when.  There were a few spots left in the Opens Tour, so some of the women were able to transfer their deposits over and fish the Opens.  Top anglers, such as Pam Martin-Wells, Judy Wong, and Dianna Clark all are fishing Opens tournaments.  Other former WBT professionals were unable to secure Opens berths, and other tournament trails began receiving inquiries as to open registration slots.  There are now women registered to fish everything from the Bassmaster Opens Series to the Fishers of Men tour. 

With the now-former WBT anglers scattered in tournament trails all over the United States, it would be a challenge to keep a venue where the ladies could continue to enjoy the camaraderie they had in fishing together.  That’s why it’s such a surprise that not one, but three tournament trails arose like a phoenix from the ashes of the former WBT.  The first indication that the WBT women had that anything was being done, was the email they received from  Bowden, in which she asked them to fill out surveys on what direction the women wanting to fish together wanted to take, and what they would like to see in terms of tournament days, format, and payouts.  While she was doing that, Thompson was working with the IFBBA and put together the four-stop tour offered.

Things began happening quickly and furiously.  A flurry of Internet activity turned out a number of emails and websites began emerging.  Cheryl Bowden’s personal pro angler website became the home of her collaboration with Secret, and Sabrina Thompson utilized her Facebook account to get her message out.  Before January was over, three bass tournament trails were born. The three entities have three totally different focuses of their efforts.  The Women’s Bass Division of the IFBBA, with its four-stop trail and founded by Thompson has the most bookings scheduled.  Cheryl Bowden and Secret York’s focus is two-fold, with the primary one being the organizational meetings scheduled before and after the two-day tournament on Kentucky Lake.  Their goal is to get all of the ladies together in one place and get a consensus on what the anglers themselves want to do in moving the ladies into their fishing future.  Rod Baker, who ended up collaborating with his friend Lee White, has long-range goals that are a multi-step process.  He and White both have more than 25 years’ experience each in being Tournament Directors, so they naturally decided that they would serve in that capacity for their lady angler events.

Baker’s primary goal was to get a website up and running, so that he could start letting people know that he was working for the women’s future also.  The self-titled American Lady Anglers website was posted in its under-construction configuration the week of the Bassmaster Classic.  It is not yet fully-functional, but is meeting its goal in letting the women know that there is going to be something different out there.  Baker’s trail is not the Co/Pro Individual format of both Thompson and Bowden/York’s, but a team format exclusively.  He listened to the words of his wife, who had repeatedly remarked that she would rather work as a team with the woman in the back of the boat, because she felt that the events would be more relaxed and fun.  While she enjoyed every minute of her time on the WBT tour, she felt there was room for change. 

One of the changes Baker and Elkins agreed on was to lift some of the restrictions so that the women would feel more relaxed and more of a team.  The first restriction lifted was a no-brainer; erase the Off-limits/Official Practice Days format.  Both Baker and Elkins sympathized with the many women who had to leave significant others and family-members at home.  Many of them, with families to support and limited vacation time had to make the hard decision to have someone stay at home, either with or without children to look after, because the significant others couldn’t be in the boat pre-fishing during the entire week leading up to the tournament anyway.  Monday through Wednesday afternoon of each tournament week, only registered contestants were allowed on the water.  It didn’t make any sense for their significant others to take off work, only to stay at the hotel or campground all day waiting around for their loved ones to come back, tired and hungry, ready to eat and shower, then get their notes and maps out and study until they fell asleep, then wake up and do it again the next day.  With the American Lady Anglers (ALA) format, the only off-limits their registered contestants will experience will be from the time they come off the water the day before the tournament for the registration meeting until the tournament starts in the morning. 

The next change in the ALA tournament format is the boat operation and angler position.  As long as all federal, state, and local rules are followed, Baker and White don’t care if their contestants want to be in the front, back, or middle of the boat, either individually or as a team, as long as they just stay in the boat to fish.  That way, if the anglers wanted to switch-off and take turns running the trolling motor, they could do so.  This rule change also encourages the ladies to work together, making the whole experience one of teamwork.  When the boat comes in, the fish in it will be the product of how well these women work together. 

The next step in the process involves how those women will get together in the first place.  Both Thompson and Bowden/York have specified a random-draw pairing for their tournaments.  After the Kentucky Lake tournament, what the anglers do will be their choices, based on their voting.  Actually, the ballot to proceed at all will have to be the first vote passed.  They will have to collectively decide that they want to take on the time and effort involved in obtaining sponsors, scheduling dates, negotiating contracts with both sponsors and cities, negotiating with marinas and launch sites, obtaining the necessary permits, deciding on payout amounts, purchasing or renting equipment, purchasing liability insurance to cover the cities, equipment and sponsors as needed, doing weigh-ins, certifying results, collecting and calculating payouts, setting rules and regulations governing entries, filling out action reports required by some cities and states after events, paying taxes in those states that require it, and the list goes on…

It quickly becomes evident that Baker’s focus is on doing the entire planning and formatting processes first, carefully weighing all of the possibilities and options.  He knows he is not going to be able to anticipate every scenario, but he can imagine quite a few and he wants to have contingency plans available as much as possible.  The next focus is dual-pronged:  Sponsors and Host Cities.  After that will come the posting of the schedule.  The website will carry the information as it becomes available.  The Partner page will soon be able to take on ladies looking to find partners for the events.  Partnering can be decided well in advance of the events and has been one of the things he has received the most questions about.

The Rules and Regulations of the American Lady Anglers was first vetted and then posted on the website ahead of anything else.  Their purpose was clear – to allow anyone to read them and decide whether or not to participate in an ALA event, and to clarify the expectations of the Tournament Directors when dealing with the registered contestants.  These rules show that it is not really the individual angler getting the points, but the boat, or team.  If someone wants to have the same teammate in her boat for every tournament, that is up to her.  If she wants to be in one event or every event scheduled, the same is true.  Boaters can fish with eligible females of their choice.  If they want to fish one event with their mother, two with their neighbor and one with their daughter, and still make the championship at the end of the year, that’s up to her.  “It’s the boat that really advances”, explains Baker. “It’s not one of those dances where you have to leave with who brought you.  If the person operating the boat does well in all of the tournaments, her boat will be going to the championship.  She can decide which of her partners she wants to take with her.”  Elkins added jokingly, “Pam Martin-Wells could probably fish with a female puppy and still beat me.”

Important to everyone concerned in tournament fishing is the Payout Schedule.  Thompson and Bowden/ York have named $10,000 as their prize for the winning Boater or Pro, entry-numbers permitting.  Thompson has estimated that a fifty-boat field will satisfy the first prize pot, based on the entry-payback.  Bowden and York have informed everyone that theirs will be a “100% Payback” tournament, minus $50 per angler entry fee to cover expenses, which are detailed on their website.  They also estimate a $10,000 winner purse to the first-place Professional, and promise additionally, that they will pay back to the entrants monies left over (if there are any) after the tournament expenses are paid.  The facilities and equipment for the weigh-in and meetings are being donated by Moor’s Resort and The Sportsman’s Edge.

Perhaps the most amazing thing that has emerged during the build-up phase of these tournament trails is the spirit of cooperation that is clearly seen between all three entities.  Everyone is working together to try to secure the future of fishing for the lady anglers, and in doing so; expand the options that the ladies have while enabling them all to fish together.  No one wants to do anything that will impede the success of any of the tournament trails. That is a difficult job this first year, taking into account all of the differing schedules.  As much as is humanly possible, Baker is trying to negotiate with the potential Host Cities for a date that does not impinge on any of the other tournament trail dates this year.  While it may be possible to do that for the events already listed by Thompson, Bowden, and York, it is impossible to prepare for every contingency.  He has printed out every schedule from the Media and Bass Champs, to the Opens and FLW.  He has said, however, that he will try his best to not schedule over the ladies events themselves.  In talking to the many potential host cities and juggling the possibilities, he has yet to settle on a date for the Inaugural Event of the American Lady Anglers, which he wants to be so successful that it will ensure the future of the ALA in the fishing world.

The first tournament for the ALA will be scheduled and put on the website as soon as the final contracts are signed with the host cities and the sponsors.  Since Baker’s goal is to get the highest payouts possible with the lowest entry fees, it will be up to sponsors and host cities to provide prize money to fill in the gap between the money generated by entry fees and the prizes being offered.  He would like to have higher cash payouts than seen historically by the ladies, and also more places being paid.  In addition, Baker plans to have a lot more “fun” prizes available for any lady who enters the tournaments. These include things like first fish, biggest fish, most fish under limit, and smallest fish weighed in, etc.  He is also negotiating for each host city to offer a prize package as a “Host City Gift”, which could include prizes and cash, and be available to any registered contestant.  The final category being explored is the Sponsor prizes, which include everything from boosting the payouts across the board to individual prizes available to all entrants.  Without divulging the contents of the negotiations, these prizes will be varying cash values, but in keeping with the Sponsor-oriented theme.  With ALA tournaments enabling more ladies chances to defray their expenses, Baker hopes to attract more entrants to fish in all of his tournaments.

His true goal is to enable all ALA members the chance to defray the high cost of tournament fishing.  In saying that, he is not exaggerating.  He has been negotiating with host cities to give a much more substantial discount on lodging, food, and any and all expenses paid by the ladies during the fishing of the ALA tour.  Instead of taking the usual free hotel rooms offered only for tournament staff during the tour, Baker is trying to get a more substantial discount for all of the ladies.  This includes those camping along with those staying in hotels, and doesn’t involve just one “host hotel”, since a single hotel sometimes cannot accommodate every single angler’s needs.  While one angler might like to be in the thick of the action, another might like to have space off by herself to get her mind set for the tournament.  Some may have families that want to camp in a family-style park, while singles may want to stay where there is more action and activities off the water. 

The final thrust of the ALA plan involves increased media exposure for the ladies fishing the ALA events.  Plans are being made, again involving everyone from the individual anglers to the host cities and the sponsors themselves.  Beginning with ALA flyers advertising the website, the first goal is to let lady anglers everywhere know that the ALA even exists and get them started in thinking about fishing as a team and who they will partner with.  In keeping with his goal of enabling any lady who wants to fish to come out and fish with the ALA, Baker is hoping to encourage more ladies located in sites that an ALA event is scheduled to bring her boat and partner and come and fish the ALA event.  Accomplishing that will involve a lot more publicity than had been historically associated with WBT events.  Pre-tournament publicity will start 1-2 months prior to an event, starting with the flyers.  Internet, newspaper, radio, and television articles will follow, in an attempt to reach the widest audience possible.  ALA staff and members will be giving interviews and appearing at media events at local schools, malls, grocery stores, and other venues, depending on sponsor desires. 

In the three-tier priority list on which the ALA is based, no one value is predominant.  In addition to having a platform through which all ladies are welcome to fish, the other two tiers are conservation and the future of female fishing.  All ALA events are catch-and-release, in which the goal is to return 100% of the fish caught back healthy into native waters.  In keeping with that goal, the ALA is partnering with the premier maker of Bio-chemical fish-care products, Sure-Life, to insure that all fish that are brought to the weigh-in alive will be returned back into their native waters alive and healthy.  Sure-Life is the developer and supplier of the livewell additive Catch-and-Release, which the ALA recommends that all of its anglers use to help assure the health of their fish.  Catch-and-release is the only livewell formula that prevents the spread of disease, combats stress, stimulates the immune response, and addresses water quality issues in a single formulation.  In returning fish back into native waters using this formula in their live-release tanks, the ALA is helping local Parks and Wildlife efforts to improve their water quality and combat LMBV (Largemouth Bass Virus) and other diseases.  The ALA is proud to announce that Sure-Life is the first sponsor company to commit to the ALA, and has contracted to supply all of the Bio-Chemical additives for the Live-Release and Holding Tanks used during the Weigh-Ins. 

Plans are also being made to utilize the tournament’s pre-event publicity to educate future anglers and to help assure the future of ladies fishing together.  The ALA is working together with potential Host Cities, along with local bass clubs and Bass Federation members, in order to pull together a media extravaganza in which the entire local school system is brought into the area’s Convention Center or Stadium, for a large seminar on female professional fishing.  Boat parades, autograph signings, fishing and casting demonstrations, sponsor product giveaways, and audience participation are all part of the plan to get young anglers interested in and excited by the idea of fishing professionally themselves some day.  Older teens will have a chance (with their parents’ permission), to participate not only in some of the live-action demonstrations, but to enter into a random drawing in which they will be able to be outfitted as a pro by sponsoring local tackle shops, and fish for the day as a team member with an actual female professional angler.  Sponsor dollars are needed for all of this, including a fair compensation given to offset trip and tournament expenses of the professional anglers willing to spend their time on the water with the future lady anglers, giving up their chances to win the event fishing with a more experienced partner. 

Baker and White feel that implementation of all of these plans will help not just the current generation of lady anglers, but will help lady anglers of the next generations become interested in participating in the sport.  He gets many calls wondering when the first tournament is going to be scheduled, and hopes to post that soon.  Before that happens, however, he has a list of things that he feels necessary to the successful launch and continuation of a ladies team tournament trail. “If I had had about a year or two to put together an organization, recruit sponsors, and then negotiate contracts with potential host cities, I might have been able to pull it off a lot more quickly and efficiently.  As it is, I began seriously thinking about it the second week in January, and by the third week, I had a website up.  I consider that to be a step in the right direction.” 

All three entities share the common love of the sport of bass fishing and the feeling of the need for a place where ladies can compete together on a level playing field.  Although their approaches have been different fundamentally, they all show a willingness to work together, share information, and root for the success of the other team.  Actually, that’s where the difference really is.  There is no “other” team.  There’s room for everybody in the world of women’s fishing to accommodate all three entities.  All three are pulling for their own success and the success of the other two.  It just goes to show that, when it comes to fishing, whether you call them the WBT, the WBD, or the WXYZ, when it comes to the ladies, they’re serious about their fishing.  They want to fish together, and a successful ladies tournament trail means that everybody wins, no matter what the letters end up being. 

Note: On March 9, 2010, after the filing of this story, the IFBBA announced that it would be cancelling the WBD Tournament Scheduled March 18-20, 2010, at Lake Bob Sandlin.  Sabrina Thompson called each individual angler who had been registered for the tournament, to apologize for the cancellation, which had been done for reasons of poor attendance.  After finding out that there were possible issues with the Arkansas River, due to recent heavy rains, the decision was made to cancel the WBD second tournament, and concentrate on the third one at Lake Belton, in June.  Although the Bob Sandlin tournament had apparently had a very low registration numbers, Sabrina stated that quite a few people told her that they were going to register, either online or at the site, increasing the number of anglers who would have fished at the WBD inaugural tournament.  With the online registration being so light, however, she had no way of knowing how many would turn up at the last minute, and felt an obligation to the ladies already registered to cancel and refund their money to be on the safe side.  Sabrina is going to redouble and concentrate her efforts on the future of the WBD, including not only the Lake Belton tournament but the tournament schedule for 2011.  Like all of the planned ladies’ events, we can only hope that her future efforts will result in success.  Once again, a successful ladies tournament trail means that everybody wins, now more than ever.

Saturday 13 March 2010 - 12:27:05

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