With the wide array of tournament circuits here in California, and throughout the country, the rise of the “Rookie” style format seems to have grown into a life of its own. These tournament formats came to life nearly 10 years ago for many reasons but mainly because of the downturn of the nation’s economy. These rookie league events immediately drew large numbers of anglers wanting to step up to the next level and yet were still held back because of economical and/or financial issues. These events were (are) in my opinion, also created as a great way to step up from club tournaments to a larger, more advanced level of competition on your way to becoming a full-time tournament professional. Now don’t get me wrong, not everyone is on this journey of becoming a pro but the purpose of this article is to address those who are and to give them some food for thought.
In order to really get down to brass tacks, lets look at what the rookie league format really is. The allure of these team tournaments and their reason for being is first based on a lower initial entry fee and more money paid back to the anglers. The secondary purpose of these events is to serve as a stepping-stone for competitive bass anglers to hone their skills against anglers of similar levels. Some may disagree with me and that’s ok, as I said, these are my thoughts. So lets look a bit more at the money part of the equation. With entry fees under $200 per team and winnings paid back to 20 places in some cases, it’s hard to deny that these events are rising in popularity. On average first place wins roughly $3,000.00!! That’s awesome! Well, that all depends on how you look at it and what your reason is for fishing these events. Just to serve as a comparison, a pro team entry at slightly over $300 per team would still payout roughly $3,000.00…BUT with half the number of anglers. This is just food for thought and rough numbers mind you, take a look at the numbers for yourself and you may see what I see. Furthermore, the money equation works in favor of the rookie events because they hold 5-7 events in each region, having anywhere from 2-7 regions. The goal of the rookie tournament organization is to have you fish all of their events(or most) in order to qualify for the tournament of champions. The rookie circuits have a great business model actually, less money but more tournaments. On the contrary, there are usually fewer events on the pro side, which will get close to offsetting the higher cost of the pro events. Look at FLW and WON Bass as an example. So where do you go from here?
If your desire is to simply fish at the rookie league level of competition and win a few bucks, or try to, then these events are a great fit for you. However, if you truly want to make it to the upper echelon of tournament bass fishing then you should take a good, long look at your path. Sit down and create a plan for how you’ll get there, or how you think you could get there. The rookie events can be a great stepping-stone and they can also be a stagnant plateau. Take a look at the anglers who’ve stepped up from those events to do great things toward achieving their goals. Names like Aaron LeSieur (Hollywood), Travis Huckaby, Jim Moulton just to name a few, have all moved on to cash some great checks and further their exposure. On the flip side there are many ‘career’ rookie league anglers who dominate their respective regions year after year. They have $$60k-$80k boat and truck combos, wraps, sponsors, double HDS units and so on… Now I don’t discount their talent by any means, they definitely know how to catch em. In fact I say they would be better served to step up to pro level events and show their skills at a level with higher paybacks and more opportunities to advance in the sport. After all, the reason for most who invest that much to fish these events is to advance in the sport via tournament wins, time on the water and sponsorship opportunities.
Now I will be the first to say that I have fished and supported the rookie league tournaments, even working as staff for the Anglers Choice WRL for a short time. I did so with the goal to work my way up toward the professional level of competition and gain exposure. I had a plan to fish the rookie leagues for two years, evaluate my performance and then decide if I could make the jump to the pro side. After cashing several checks each year, having several top tens and one win, I decided it was time for me to make the jump to the Pro side. The rookie leagues have their place. In addition to the importance of the rookie events, I also know the impact these they have the pro level tournaments in California, and across the country. Our pro and pro-am events, are dwindling right before our very eyes. They’re dwindling because far too many anglers are not moving up to fish these events when they surely have the talent. Why aren’t they moving up? Many reasons I’m sure but If we’re all being honest the main excuse would be fear of defeat. I once read an article written by a well-known angler who stated ‘that the only way to improve is to get beat by guys who are better than you’. This is the path that I’m on this year, getting my hindquarters kicked (chuckle, chuckle). If we want to see FLW, WON Bass and B.A.S.S. even entertain the idea of keeping larger events here in California then we need to unite as anglers and support the pro and pro-am events with a higher angler turnout. I’ve spoken with many top-level tournament pros and directors here in California who all agree that if we don’t see anglers gradually work their way up, the sport will continue to be stagnant here on the west. The choice is yours boys and girls, choose wisely.
With the 2014 season just around the corner, I hope that everyone who fishes these rookie league events reads this article. I encourage you to take a good look at your goals and set a plan to step up to the next level. I do firmly believe that some type of rookie league event should be in place, just not as many as we see now. They have their time and place. The only way to show the rest of the country that we are serious anglers and keep large events and big money sponsors here is to unite as one group and show support to the Professional organizations. Lets get out there and show everyone that we want this sport to grow out here in the West. I look forward to seeing you all out on the water soon!
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