BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Fifty years ago, Harold Sharp, a young railroad employee from Chattanooga, became the second member of the newly organized Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, or B.A.S.S. Sharp often related how his membership followed a meeting with B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott in a hotel during a horrible ice storm. While cooped up in the hotel Sharp and Scott crafted the first bylaws for B.A.S.S.
Sharp soon organized the Chattanooga Bass Club and affiliated it with the B.A.S.S. “mothership,” as he called it, creating what would later become known as the B.A.S.S. Nation of affiliated bass clubs.
Along with Ray Scott, founder, and Bob Cobb, editor of Bassmaster Magazine, Sharp helped mold B.A.S.S. into the “keeper of the culture” of bass fishing. Sharp died three years ago this month, but his legacy lives on in the B.A.S.S. Nation, which has affiliated B.A.S.S. clubs in 47 states and 10 nations worldwide.
“The Nation has been an integral part of B.A.S.S., and the sport of bass fishing,” said Jon Stewart, B.A.S.S. Nation director. “Over the past 50 years, the grass-roots club members of the B.A.S.S. Nation have turned millions of young anglers on to the sport, instilling in them the conservation ethic and the love of competition.”
The conservation ethic in bass fishing began with the B.A.S.S. “Don’t Kill Your Catch” program in 1972. Now, catch and release is the sporting standard in bass fishing. B.A.S.S. continues to lead on the conservation front through the state conservation directors of the B.A.S.S. Nation, who are dedicated to the improvement of local fisheries, lobby for angler access and focus on fish care during tournaments.
The Nation, which has enjoyed steady growth over the past five years and now numbers more than 30,000 members, is one of the prime organizers of high school bass tournaments at the local level. In addition, B.A.S.S. now has 958 high school clubs affiliated with the organization, which includes 10,585 young anglers. Growth in the college ranks continues to rise, as well, as B.A.S.S. now has over 200 colleges affiliated, including over 1,400 anglers. This spike in youth participation has injected new enthusiasm throughout the bass fishing industry.
“Nation club members are some of the most active and engaged anglers among our 500,000 members,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin. “They’re also some of the best amateur anglers in the world. Current Bassmaster Elite Series stars Michael Iaconelli and Brandon Palaniuk were B.A.S.S. Nation champions before earning their way into the Elite Series.”
Sharp’s other legacy was through his work as the original tournament director of the B.A.S.S. Tournament Trail, which he helped make the most competitive, fair and popular tournament series in the world.
“Today’s tournament anglers owe a huge debt of gratitude to Harold Sharp,” said Trip Weldon, B.A.S.S. tournament director. “For 50 years, a competition to see who can catch the heaviest daily limits of bass has been the gold standard all other tournaments are judged by.”
In the Bassmaster Elite Series, professional anglers fish for four days to determine who can catch the five heaviest each day. In the regular season finale on the St. Lawrence River at Waddington, N.Y., Matt Lee set a new record by weighing in the heaviest limit of smallmouth in Elite Series history, 27 pounds, 12 ounces.
That event, the Huk Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River presented by Black Velvet, witnessed the establishment of another record. Attendance over the four-day event totaled 36,200, according to local authorities, which exceeded the previous mark of 34,100, set in Waddington in 2013.
“Attendance is just one of the facets of growth we’re seeing in the sport,” Akin added. “Fans are consuming content about the Elite Series in increasing numbers. Our Bassmaster LIVE live-stream programs of Elite competition, which we are expanding to four days and more cameras next year, have already hit incredible marks with the season not yet over. Through last week’s Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, LIVE programming drew almost 2.7 million views and recorded a total of 62 million minutes viewed.”
Akin noted that live programming is only part of the exposure focused on professional bass fishing and its athletes. In addition, many of the 1.1 million monthly unique visitors to Bassmaster.com go there for information about Elite Series tournaments, which also are covered by B.A.S.S. Times and Bassmaster Magazines, read by 4.4 million people per issue, according to independent media research statistics, he said. Add to that the 1.7 million social media followers of B.A.S.S., and there is no louder voice in the sport of bass fishing.
Exposure goes highest for anglers competing in the annual Bassmaster Classic, which will be held March 15-17, 2019, on the Tennessee River out of Knoxville, Tenn.
“We set attendance records for the Classic in Greenville, S.C., earlier this year,” said Akin. “It will surprise us if we don’t exceed those numbers in Knoxville next spring.” Alongside the incredible number of bass fishing fans attending the Classic and the anglers who qualified to fish the biggest event in bass fishing, there will stand an army of B.A.S.S. Nation volunteers behind the scenes to ensure the sport’s continued rise. After all, that is what this grass-roots group has done for half a century.