Pictured is Chinese angler Whan Zhan.
Twenty-five years ago, the Chinese government started a bass stocking program to meet the growing food needs of its people. As the Internet developed and provided a glimpse of the world outside the borders of the country, Chinese youth discovered recreational bass fishing. Internet coverage of big money bass tournaments in the United States fueled the next logical step in bass fishing in China – bass tournaments. Though still in its infancy compared to the big-time American bass tournaments, Chinese tournament bass fishing is catching on. The FLW has seen the opportunity for future business development by assisting in the growth of fishing tournaments in China. A population in excess of 1.5 billion offers a future of tremendous growth.
During the recent FLW Major tournament on Lake Champlain, I had the opportunity to be the camera boat driver for a group of Chinese bass fishermen and their camera crew. Several months ago, the Happy Fishing Channel, a 24-hour Chinese fishing network, ran a series of FLW affiliated bass tournaments in China. The grand prize was an all-expense-paid trip to the United States to compete as a co-angler in the FLW Major tournament on Lake Champlain. The winner, Wang Zhan, and his film crew arrived in Plattsburgh the Monday before the tournament. The takeoff Thursday morning would be his first opportunity to be on Lake Champlain.
The buzz among the FLW Pros was how successful a relative beginner could be against the seasoned American tournament anglers. In the FLW tournaments, the co-angler fishes from the back deck of the bass boat and for the most part fish “used water” behind the pros. Not speaking any English, Wang wasn’t able to obtain much info from his first day pro partner, Darrel Robertson of Jay, Oklahoma. Words can’t describe the look on Darrel’s face when he met his first-day partner - non-English speaking Wang, competing in his first tournament. Nor did Robertson know whether his Chinese partner understood the rules — all with a $125,000 payday on the line for Robertson. Darrel is a very successful FLW angler and has won over $1,700,000 in his career. He is also a big-time Oklahoma cattle rancher. But he is probably the easiest going and calmest fisherman on the planet — a great draw for Wang.
The next morning, after several last-minute instructions, the tournament took off with me and the Happy Fishing camera crew following Wang and Darrel in my boat at breakneck speeds. The Chinese fish from small aluminum boats with electric motors, not the high powered rockets of the American professional bass fisherman. After a 15-mile roller coaster boat ride from Plattsburgh and much hooting and hollering in Chinese by my passengers, we arrived at Wang and Darrell’s first fishing location. Apparently, none of the Chinese delegation had ever been 60-plus mph in a bass boat before.
Let the fishing begin. I positioned my boat 20 yards away from Wang and Darrell, allowing the camera crew to film the action. Now, watching someone else fish is worse than watching paint dry. Every cast when you are fishing is made with anticipation, but when watching someone else do the same, it’s just plain boring — that is, until someone catches a fish. Thank goodness, two minutes in and Darrel catches a bass and then another one, both keepers. It’s on and Wang is down in the boat looking for lures. Come-on Man! This isn’t going to be pretty, but at last he’s ready and fishing and - Wow - he catches one, about a two-pound largemouth. Great, after many photos by the Happy Fishing camera crew he’s back fishing and right away catches another one. Hey, this is fun! The rookie is catching them. Again another one, now Darrel is looking over his shoulder, another one and this one is big! Then a double, Darrel with one and Wang another one at the same time. “Great net job Wang!” I yell. So much for paint drying. Darrel’s isn’t a keeper, now he’s down three to two. It gets worse - two more for Wang in the next 10 minutes, he has a limit. “Oh, Darrel! You’re the pro not a guide,” I jab him. Darrel’s now shaking his head, he looks at me and shrugs and yells, “This kid is good.” Time for Darrel to bear down and he does with a couple small keepers. The pressure’s turned off and so do the fish — now we’re back to paint drying.
For a fisherman who is 36 and only has been fishing 6 years, Wang is very talented. Smooth at casting and working his lures. I wish I could report that he blew away the field, but he didn’t. The luck of the draw has a lot to do with a co-angler’s success. Wang finished 74 out of 127 competitors for the two days. Not a bad first tournament. But Wang built memories for a life time - his first trip to the USA, his first American bass tournament, and getting to meet his hero Gary Yamamoto, who was last year’s runner-up on Lake Champlain. Gary is to Asian fisherman what Bill Dance is to American fisherman. Great memories. Just when I think I have seen and heard it all in fishing, along come the Chinese. Szechuan Bass anyone?
Howard Hammonds is a guide and experienced bass fisherman living in Westport. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.