Multiple tournament trails have emerged to give ladies options after the discontinuation of the WBT, including the American Lady Anglers. Rod Baker, Bass Caddy Husband of WBT Pro Dr. Terri Elkins, was shocked to hear from one of his buddies, Lake Fork Guide Lee White, that ESPN/BASS had announced the discontinuation of the Women’s Bassmaster Tour on Monday, January 4, 2010. He was shocked, but not surprised. “I felt during the whole 2009 WBT season that this was the last one, but I hoped I was wrong”, says Baker. “But when I started thinking about what those ladies went through to fish, I got mad. Some of them sleep in their trucks and tents, and had to take shelter in camp restrooms at 1 am during severe storms, and then get up at four to fish the tournament. I felt that, with that kind of dedication, there should be something out there for them to stay together and fish.” Anyone who knows Rod will agree, when he feels like something should be done, he makes it happen.
Rod wasn’t the only one among the former WBT family to take action. Other former WBT anglers were taking action so that the ladies would get to fish together in 2010. The clock was obviously ticking, as the New Year had already begun. It usually takes time to put together a tournament tour. Not so with Sabrina Thompson, (Humble, TX), former WBT Non-Boater, who calls her trail the WBD (Women’s Bass Division). She put together a four-stop tour using the former WBT fishing dates in a matter of only a couple of weeks. Secret York, (Benton, KY) and Cheryl Bowden, (Plano, TX), both WBT Boaters, arranged a tournament and a meeting of former WBT anglers at Kentucky Lake in May.
Immediately after receiving the email informing them that there would be no WBT, the ladies got to work. Everyone in the WBT had to find tournaments to fish that would fulfill their obligations to promote their Sponsors. There were a few spots left in the Opens Tour, so some of the women were able to transfer their deposits over and fish the Opens. Top anglers, such as Pam Martin-Wells, Judy Wong, and Dianna Clark all are fishing Opens tournaments. Other tournament trails began receiving inquiries as to open registration slots. There are now women registered to fish everything from the Bassmaster Opens Series to the Fishers of Men tour.
Before January was over, three bass tournament trails for women were born. The three entities have three totally different focuses of their efforts. The Women’s Bass Division of the IFBBA, with its four-stop trail and founded by Thompson has the most bookings scheduled. Cheryl Bowden and Secret York’s focus is two-fold, with the primary one being the organizational meetings. Their goal is to get all of the ladies together in one place and get a consensus on what the anglers themselves want to do in moving the ladies into their fishing future. As a side benefit they will fish together while there. Rod Baker, who ended up collaborating with his friend Lee White, has long-range goals that are a multi-step process. He and White both have more than 25 years’ experience each in being Tournament Directors, so they naturally decided that they would serve in that capacity for their lady angler events.
Baker’s primary goal was to get a website up and running, so that he could start letting people know that he was working for the women’s future also. The self-titled American Lady Anglers website was posted in its under-construction configuration the week of the Bassmaster Classic. It is not yet fully-functional, but is meeting its goal in letting the women know that there is going to be something different out there. Baker’s trail is not the Co/Pro Individual format of both Thompson and Bowden/York’s, but a team format exclusively. He listened to the words of his wife, who had repeatedly remarked that she would rather work as a team with the woman in the back of the boat, because she felt that the events would be more relaxed and fun.
Another change Baker and Elkins agreed on was to lift some of the restrictions imposed on the WBT. The first move was to change the Off-limits/Official Practice Days format. Both Baker and Elkins sympathized with the many women who had to leave loved ones at home. Many of them, with limited vacation time, had to make the hard decision to have someone stay at home, because the significant others couldn’t be in the boat pre-fishing during the entire week leading up to the tournament anyway. Monday through Wednesday afternoon of each tournament week, only registered contestants were allowed on the water. It didn’t make any sense for their significant others to take off work, only to stay at the hotel or campground all day waiting around for the anglers to come back, tired and hungry, ready to eat and shower, then get their notes and maps out and study until they fell asleep, then wake up and do it again the next day. With the American Lady Anglers (ALA) format, the only off-limits their registered contestants will experience will be from the time they come off the water the day before the tournament for the registration meeting until the tournament starts in the morning.
The next change in the ALA tournament format will be the boat operation and angler position. As long as all federal, state, and local rules are followed, Baker and White don’t care if their contestants want to be in the front, back, or middle of the boat, either individually or as a team, as long as they just stay in the boat to fish. That way, if the anglers want to switch-off and take turns running the trolling motor, they can. This rule change also encourages the ladies to work together, making the whole experience one of teamwork. When the boat comes in, the fish in it will be the product of how well these women work together.
The next step in the process involves how those women will get together in the first place. Both Thompson and Bowden/York have specified a random-draw pairing for their tournaments. After the Kentucky Lake tournament, what the anglers do will be their choices, based on their voting. Actually, the ballot to proceed at all will have to be the first vote passed. For the shared-weight team events planned by the ALA, ladies can choose their partner. If they need help, the Partner page on the website is there for that purpose. It will soon be able to take on ladies looking to find partners for the events. Partnering can be decided well in advance of the events and has been one of the things Baker has received the most questions about.
ALA rules show that it is not really the individual angler getting the points, but the boat, or team. If someone wants to have the same teammate in her boat for every tournament, that is up to her. If she wants to be in one event or every event scheduled, the same is true. Boaters can fish with eligible females of their choice. If they want to fish one event with their mother, two with their neighbor and one with their daughter, and still make the championship at the end of the year, that’s up to her. “It’s the boat that really advances”, explains Baker. “It’s not one of those dances where you have to leave with who brought you. If the person operating the boat does well in all of the tournaments, her boat will be going to the championship. She can decide which of her partners she wants to take with her.” Elkins added jokingly, “Pam Martin-Wells could probably fish with a female puppy and still beat me.” Last thing I heard from the Wells’ household, Steven said Pam was diligently searching for her puppy. Next Installment of WBT Anglers to have New Options: Part II – Increased Payouts and Publicity with Decreased Expenses for ALL ALA Members , ALA Founders Share Their Vision
By Terri Elkins, M.D.