Learn from the Best

"The Marshals who go out with me will get a seminar on how I'm fishing. And I know the other Elite Series competitors feel the same way," says BASS legend Kevin VanDam. 

BASS recently announced its new Marshal Program for the Elite Series. I'm really excited about it. In my opinion it's one of the best things to happen to our sport in years. Let me explain why I say that and why I'm so excited about the program.

If you want to become a better competitive bass angler, the best and quickest way to do it is by spending time with as many different quality competitive anglers as you can as often as you can. And where else can you learn more about bass fishing in a competitive environment than during a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament?

Regardless of who you draw, you'll spend the day with one of the 110 best tournament anglers on the planet. There's no group that's any better, and there's nowhere you'll learn any more.

You can watch and ask questions of a pro all day as he fishes under serious competitive conditions without the distraction of trying to catch fish yourself.

The fishing distraction is no small thing. I recently experienced this firsthand during a tournament where I worked as a commentator. It was a real learning experience.

These guys weren't holding anything back. There was serious prestige and serious money on the line. I was able to see how they broke the lake down during practice, watch them choose between competing patterns and watch them select lures and tackle.

As they did that, I was able to compare and contrast decisions. It was amazing what I learned from them. When I'm fishing against those guys I don't see — much less think about — any of those things. I'm trying to catch my own fish. I don't have time to worry about them or what they're doing.

Our Marshals will be able to do the same thing. I'll be more than happy to explain how I analyzed the lake in practice, why I chose to fish one point rather than another and why I'm throwing a particular bait.

And we'll go further if they want. We'll talk about line choice, gear ratios of reels and why I'm holding my rod at a 60-degree angle rather than a 30-degree angle or maybe why I'm pumping my bait rather than cranking it.

We'll talk about my strategy when I'm catching fish, trying to up my bag weight. We'll also talk about what I'm doing, and going to do, when I'm struggling. I'll be as candid as I possibly can.

Equally important, however, the Marshals will be able to watch and see it all develop in real-time. They won't have the distraction of trying to catch their own bass or worrying about where they are in the co-angler standings. They can concentrate 100 percent on learning to fish under tournament conditions.

The Marshals who go out with me will get a seminar on how I'm fishing. And I know the other Elite Series competitors feel the same way. I haven't talked to a single one who isn't excited about this program and who doesn't intend to do exactly what I intend to do.

We all feel that this is a great learning opportunity for our fans. It's a chance to help recreational tournament anglers learn more about this sport and do better when they go back home. Every Elite Series angler I know will take pride in making their Marshal a better bass fisherman.

But let's get back to the learning experience. After you've fished with one pro on Thursday and watched him in action you'll be able to go out with another pro on Friday. That'll give you a chance to compare and contrast styles, theories and results. It'll give you another perspective from someone equally talented and knowledgeable.

You can ask the same questions and consider the different answers you get. Of course, you can't discuss those answers with a pro during the tournament, but at least you can get them and think about them in the context of who did and who didn't catch bass and why.

Now, let's talk about the cost of all this. That's always an important consideration. It only costs $100 per tournament to be a Marshal. You might have some additional travel and lodging and food expenses depending on where you live and where the tournament is going to be, but if you split it up with some bass club buddies, you can have a great learning experience without spending a lot of money.

That's not bad for two — maybe three — days of individual contact with a pro. It's less than you'd spend for gas for that time on the water or for a decent fishing guide. Can you gain that much knowledge spending the same amount of money fishing by yourself? I seriously doubt it.

Of course, we (Elite Series anglers) get some benefits, too. First, and most important, we get to return something to our fans, the club anglers who support the bass fishing industry and BASS professional competitions. You make this sport possible, it's only right that we help you in return.

The second thing we get out of the Marshal Program is protection of the integrity of our sport. We don't cheat and we don't want anybody to think we do. The best way to protect our reputations is to have someone in the boat with us.

This is the best deal for all of us to come down the road in a longtime. Don't let it get past you. Let me remind you, if you want to become a better competitive bass angler the best and quickest way to do it is by fishing with as many good competitive anglers as you can, as often as you can. The Marshal Program lets you do just that.

Editor's Note: BASS' Marshal Program replaces co-anglers in Elite Series events with Marshals who will observe the pros during competition. The Marshal Program will give recreational anglers and other interested parties a chance to meet our Elite Series pros and learn from them while, at the same time, protecting the integrity of our tournaments.

Here are the basics:

1. You must be at least 16 years old to participate.

2. There is a $100 fee per event.

3. Mandatory training — tournament rules and technology — will be offered on Wednesdays during tournament registration.

4. The training will be followed by a reception open to Marshals, Elite Series pros and BASS officials. The reception will not be open to the public.

5. Every Marshal will ride with a pro on Thursday and Friday. All pairings will be determined by a random draw for each day. Because of the cut from 110 anglers to 50 after Friday's weigh-in, Saturday rides will be awarded on a first come, first served basis.

6. There will be no Sunday rides. (Film crews will accompany the anglers on the final day.)

Click here to learn more about the Marshal Program.