RALEIGH, N.C. Ed Cannon surveyed the meeting room filled with his peers and was suddenly overcome with trepidation over the scene before him. Cannon, about to retire after 22 years as president of the North Carolina BASS Chapter Federation, was not feeling melancholy about disconnecting from his close network of friends at his final CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer.
Yet, in a way he was.
"Those guys, the presidents, have been my friends for two decades," he recounted. "We have been through a lot with the Federation program and have seen it grow by leaps and bounds.
"But what worried me as I looked across the room was the fact that many have just about as much tenure as me."
His sentiments are universal among the ranks of the Federation leadership who are watching the average age of anglers rise while participation remains flat. He also knows that growth is inevitable, although it will take some time to percolate to his level.
"What ESPN is doing with BASS will unquestionably have an impact on bringing new and younger members to the Federation," he believes. "In the meantime, we've got to convince our chapters that growth begins at their level."
Cannon, who joined BASS in 1974, rose quickly through the ranks of his Federation and took over the helm in 1982. He's been president ever since and has overseen the daunting job of coordinating the Classic's volunteer workforce an unprecedented four times.
The North Carolina Federation had 800 anglers on its membership roll when he assumed the presidency. That number has swollen to 1,900 members in 156 chapters and is growing. The numbers show the impact of Cannon's leadership. Yet, the driving force behind the growth is found within an unwavering belief that once made Cannon ostracized by many of his followers.
"I felt the Federation needed to be run as a business and not a social club," he said. "Sure, we all get together for the enjoyment of bass fishing, but there are also budgets to be met and money to be handled.
"Some people were offended by that, but we also had the reality that our Federation was always operating in the red. We got nowhere."
Cannon ruffled feathers in 1983, just one year into his reign, when he raised the annual membership dues from $3 to $8. The $5 increase went to pay for an accidental death and dismemberment insurance policy to cover the Federation's tournaments. Still, there was opposition, considering the economics of scale back then. More than once, the policy paid for itself. BASS took note of Cannon's move and adopted the policy in the late 1980s.
With that controversial issue at rest, Cannon and his board members later fueled the Federation's financial growth by initiating a boat raffle. One-half of the ticket sales go to the responsible chapter, while the remainder builds revenue at the state level. Not surprisingly, the program keeps the Federation operating in the black. And Cannon hasn't lost sight of who brought them to the dance in that regard.
"The Federation Alliance program is just fantastic and has done wonders for the states and the entire program," he noted. "These sponsors are the best in the business, and they are committed to making us grow financially. When used to its advantage, this program is also a great recruiting tool for selling memberships. And that equates to growth."
Cannon has succeeded in making the Federation a successful business, and he also takes great pride in extolling the virtues of another priority. "We have a social responsibility to serve our communities," he said. That philosophy is strong in North Carolina, where the "Fishing for the Kids" program has donated more than $100,000 over the years to worthy charities.
As a longtime leader of the Federation, Cannon has seen his share of milestones occur in North Carolina and at the national level. Topping the list is not any particular event. Instead, the most memorable aspect has been the connection with people.
"It has been truly gratifying to see some of the sons from my original club now in chapters of their own," he recounted. "I remember back at the Classics held on High Rock Lake when Jason Quinn was one of my volunteers. Look at him now. He belonged to the Federation back then and has a connection with youths that is uncanny."
Having since passed the torch, Cannon dreams of the day when one of those youths assumes his role and that of his peers. Thanks to generations past and present, the likelihood of that happening is now better than ever.