By Bernie Schultz
Now that the Northern Swing of the Bassmaster Elites is complete, I thought I would share some insight on that experience.
Going in, there was considerable debate among the anglers as to whether B.A.S.S. should hold any events up north — particularly in New York. With so much uncertainty over the Corona virus, required testing and potential quarantines, the entire Elite field had serious concerns for themselves and their fellow competitors.
Some felt those tournaments should be canceled or relocated. Others wanted to fish. And as the dates neared, we were forced to make a decision — go or stay home.
A week or so prior to the St. Lawrence event, a venue change was announced. Instead of using Waddington, tournament headquarters would be moved to the town of Clayton. That added to the confusion, and it sparked a lengthy thread of emails among the anglers — airing their concerns with each other.
Some were worried of testing positive for the virus and subsequently being forced to quarantine hundreds of miles from home. And I saw that as a very legitimate concern. Who wants to be stranded in a distant state, unable to compete and not knowing your fate? Even if you were healthy starting out, the possibility of contracting the virus while in route to New York was a concern. Considering the number of gas pumps and door handles each of us would be in contact with during the trek, infection was a real possibility.
Imagine yourself, traveling a great distance to compete in a tournament, then discovering you’ve contracted COVID-19 and being told you can’t fish, and that you can’t leave the state either — that you’re to remain in solitude for 14 days or until you eventually test negative for the virus.
Because of COVID concerns, many of the Elite anglers opted to camp rather than stay at hotels.
Those thoughts weighed heavily on the minds of the competitors. Yet, there were a number still willing to take the chance.
There was also the issue of the Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) standings to consider. Should an Elite pro who tests positive for the virus be penalized for missing one or maybe two events? That topic made the rounds as well, with heated debate.
For many, the New York tournaments would become pivotal to the season — their hopes and aspirations for becoming Angler of the Year or qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic, or just requalifying for another season on the tour. A lot was at stake.
Some suggested having a “drop tournament,” whereby every angler in the field would be allowed to eliminate their worst finish — to protect them from losing ground in tournaments not fished because of the virus. Some recommended having as many as two drop tournaments.
By this time, B.A.S.S. officials were privy to the dialogue. And to their credit, they issued a statement — no angler would suffer elimination from the field going into 2021, regardless of how they tested for COVID-19.
It was a strong gesture by B.A.S.S., and it brought a great sigh of relief … especially to those anglers already flirting with elimination.
When we finally arrived in Clayton, mandatory testing ensued. One by one, we each submitted to the test — including all 85 Elite anglers, assigned media, service crews and B.A.S.S. personnel. We all passed.
That came as a great relief to everyone, including the local officials who put themselves on the line by hosting the event.
As the tournament got underway, officials made sure every aspect of the event was conducted within CDC guidelines. We wore facemasks and practiced social distancing. Even the weigh-in bags we used were sanitized between trips to the scale.
We limited our contact with the public at gas stations, restaurants, etc. — respecting everyone’s safety and welfare. And, as the event progressed, it was clear the majority of people in the area were glad we were there. We felt welcomed.
That proved true at Plattsburgh and Detroit, as well.
Testing went well for everyone, including the anglers, service crews, assigned media and tournament staff.
In the end, none of our fears were realized. It was pretty much business as usual.
The competitions were conducted in typical fashion, and the fishing was great. In fact, I think every angler in the field would agree that the Northern Swing was special and rewarding to fish. Our weights surely proved it.
Perhaps the biggest gain, however, was the amount of airtime we received from ESPN2. Because so many other sports are still on hold, the worldwide leader in sports programming saw the Bassmaster Elite Series as the perfect option for a nation of starving sports enthusiasts.
Anglers, sponsors and fans received more than 70 hours of live coverage over the three northern events. Combining that with Bassmaster.com and numerous other media platforms, it’s pretty clear the Northern Swing was a very positive experience for all involved.
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