March 19, 2010

The Revival of Women's Pro Bass Fishing?

ALA Tour Yes, Schedule, No
By Terri Elkins, M.D.
Editor's Note: The following is an update on one of the efforts to resurrect women's professional bass fishing. As you'll see, it's long on enthusiasm, but an even longer way from becoming a reality.

American Lady Anglers: The Only Ladies' Tour Without A Posted Schedule!

Red Oak, Texas... When ESPN announced in January that it was canceling the WBT, Rod Baker, Bass Caddy Husband of WBT Pro Dr. Terri Elkins, was shocked, but unsurprised. "I felt during the whole 2009 season that it was the last, but hoped I was wrong", says Baker. "When I started thinking about what those ladies went through to fish, I got mad. Some sleep in their trucks and tents, and had to take shelter in restrooms at 1 am during storms; then get up at four to fish the tournament. With that kind of dedication, there should be a way for them to stay together and fish." Then he set out to make it happen.

A week later, Rod had the decided to do his own Women's Tour, called The American Lady Anglers (ALA) with buddy Lee White, a Lake Fork Guide. The next week, they bought a new, 20-foot car-hauler to convert into a Tournament Trailer. In between trips to the hardware store, he put up a website,, which was functional, but not finished. After a week-long "break" for the Bassmaster Classic, Rod got back to work. At the Classic, Rod managed to: print and pass out flyers, publicize the ALA in person, meet with potential sponsors, travel to three potential host cities for meetings, plus brainstorm multiple "To Do" lists for later guidance.

Once home, he worked harder. He and White have more than 25 years' experience each in tournaments, so they decided to serve as Co-Directors. To avoid any conflict of interest, Lee will handle all matters concerning anglers, and Rod will handle weather, safety, launch, and mechanical issues. Once they finish the trailer, they have wish list of needed equipment. After equipment they'll need insurance (including general liability), incorporation, tax ID number, bank accounts, computers, software, a logo for business cards, letterhead, patches and tournament wear, and the list goes on. Luckily for the ALA, Elkins has run a business, so she gets to be the "silent" partner, who does all secretarial, plus computer, accounting, legal, insurance, and anything-else-the-guys-don't- want-to-do work. That includes all proposals, applications, and publicity.

The next task is to line up both sponsors and sites. The application process for both is very similar. The difference is that scheduling a tournament with a potential host city is not a problem. Everyone wants the lady anglers to come to town. They quietly come to town, spend their money, fish, and go home. The late cancellation of the WBT after the start of 2010 has caused problems in both areas, however; everyone had already set up their budget. There's no money left for the new gals. If the ALA can put on a tournament trail using Rod's allowance and Lee's couch cushion money they're all set.

The ALA format isn't the Co/Pro one familiar to WBT Anglers, but a shared-weight team tournament. Baker listened to his wife, who stated she would rather work with the woman in the back of the boat, feeling the events would be more fun. White has said he doesn't care if the women fish from the front, back or middle of the boat, as long as they stay in the boat, so another WBT rule went out the window. The next thing to go was the Off-limits/Official Practice format, which seemed to cause a great deal of separation from loved ones. In the ALA, the only time that the anglers have to be off the water is from the time they leave the lake for the registration meeting until they start the tournament in the morning. The only time that they have to be in the boat with only registered contestants is during the tournament itself, freeing the ladies up to fish when and with whomever they want.

The goal for the ALA is lower entry fees, but higher payouts. They are also adding more cash prizes available for any entrant, not just the top 20. They are trying to defray the high cost of tournament fishing for all of the ladies. That is one of the reasons they are working so hard on Sponsor and Host City contracts. They are trying to have discounts for all anglers, with cash, gifts, and prizes and an equal opportunity for all to win enough money to pay for more than just that single event. It is taking a lot of imagination and mental manipulating to get both the host cities and all of the sponsor companies to donate enough to support these lofty ideals.

The final focus of the ALA is increased media exposure for all ALA members and events. This will help not only the ALA get entrants, but the ALA members who fish the events will get more publicity for their sponsors, and in turn, be able to get better sponsorship opportunities. In addition to having more pre-event publicity, the ALA is also planning on using this forum to educate and recruit future lady anglers. There are plans for many activities to coincide with the actual tournament event, which will include local school districts, businesses, and media.

All in all, Baker and White have a lofty goal. To enable any woman who wants to fish to be able to come out and fish the ALA events. By making the events fun, affordable, and innovative, they hope to attract not only the contestants, but also the potential sponsors and host cities. Making that a reality will involve much more media exposure than the ladies have ever been subject to in the past, but I have a feeling that they're ready to take on the challenge. Many of the ladies have told Baker that they already have their partners, they just need to know when and where the tournaments will be scheduled, and they'll be ready to fish. Rod has joked, "The ALA - we're the only ladies' trail without a schedule posted." As soon as we schedule one - you'll all be the first to know.

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