Bass Club Affiliation
By Robert DeWitt
Would B.A.S.S. by any other name still smell like fish?
Since January of 2006, bass clubs have had the option to
affiliate with either The Bass Federation, backed by FLW
Outdoors or The Federation Nation, a part of B.A.S.S. Some make
conscious choices based on genuine likes and dislikes while
others seem dragged along by the currents and tides created by
shifts at the state level. And some see no reason to make a
“I’m a fisherman,” said John Hendry, president of the
Lakeland TBF Bassmasters. “I think that it only makes sense that
anybody who is a member of a club should be able to fish both
federations. I’ll leave the politics to the politicians and I’ll
Resentment against corporate America, sentimental loyalty and
sheer opportunism shape the decisions bass clubs and their
members make. And at the bottom of it, some wonder if it really
matters at all.
“There are many members out there who have no idea what
happened and it doesn’t matter to them,” said Don Corkran,
director of B.A.S.S. Federation Nation. To some of those
members, it doesn’t really matter one way or another.”
Whether it really matters is a good question. Both
organizations boast thousands of members. But a big part of the
way they distinguish themselves from their competitor is the
opportunities they provide for national tournaments.
TBF sends both anglers and co-anglers to their national
“We’ve doubled the number of slots in the national
championship,” said Dave Simmons, FLW/TBF programs manager.
“Last year’s co-angler won the BFL All-American and won $70,000.
Kevin Wells wouldn’t have ever had the opportunity to advance
without the co-angler format.”
And the Federation Nation counters with club competition.
Club teams compete at the state, regional and national level.
And then there are the six federation slots in the Bassmaster
“Certainly the biggest carrot that’s out there is the six
berths in the Bassmaster Classic,” Corkran said. “That has been
there since the early 1970s.”
But whether the focus is on six people in the world’s most
prestigious bass tournament or on putting twice as many
federation members in a national championship, the impact is
still on a relatively small number of people. Thousands upon
thousands of bass club members never make it to national
championships or professional classics. Does club affiliation
mean anything to them?
“I don’t see that there’s any more benefits from the
Tennessee Bass Federation over the Federation Nation,” said
Darrell Hille, president of Robertson County Bass Club, which is
affiliated with both organizations. “The weigh-in was a little
different. But the meeting was the same and everything else was
Autonomy is what TBF offers clubs, Simmons said. That’s what
state presidents were looking for when they splintered away from
B.A.S.S. in January of 2006, he said.
“One of the primary things was that they wanted to be
independent and fully autonomous in their operation,” Simmons
said. “They governed themselves but they were tied directly to
B.A.S.S. the parent organization.”
He characterizes the relationship between FLW and TBF
federations as a partnership as opposed to the relationship of a
parent company to an affiliate.
“With our partnership, TBF remains independent,” Simmons
said. “This is a quote from Forest L. Wood. ‘You can’t force
someone to do their best. You provide good soil and fertilizer
and watch it grow.’
“We’re an adamant supporter of them being an independent
organization where their membership dues as well as their
budgeting and allocation of funds is controlled by membership.
FLW outdoors does not have a federation. FLW outdoors does not
have bass clubs. What we have is a partnership with TBF which
has bass clubs.”
FLW touts itself as nothing more than a promotions firm that
helps TBF to grow.
“We’re a service organization,” Simmons said. “We don’t
produce a tangible product. We’re a service and promotion
agency. And that service is providing tournament opportunities
for our weekend anglers and marketing and promotion services for
our sponsors and anglers.”
Simmons said there is a fundamental difference between FLW
and B.A.S.S. And that difference affects how it views fishing
and weekend anglers.
“We are a tournament organization that also participates in
media activities,” Simmons said. “We’re not a media organization
that also participates in tournaments. The weekend angler is the
group of people who gave our company the start and remain the
core focus of our business.”
It’s an idea that strikes a cord with some anglers.
“B.A.S.S. went to Hollywood,” said George Hartwig, president
of the Antelope Valley Bass Club a TBF affiliate in California.
“As long as it was in Montgomery (Ala.), it was a pretty good
organization. When it moved to Disneyworld, it got too big. Now
it’s big business.”
It’s nothing Corkran hasn’t heard before.
“I think most of the bad comments stemmed from the nation’s
fear of large companies buying smaller companies,” Corkran said.
“When ESPN first purchased us, the areas that they believed
needed immediate attention were our pro events and the
Federation felt left out.”
He believes problems stemmed, more than anything, from a
communications breakdown. And B.A.S.S. paid the price.
“I had somebody email me the other day and say ‘When is
B.A.S.S. going to admit they made some mistakes?’” Corkran said.
“I said, ‘my god, we stood on top of the Empire State Building
and said that.’”
That realization has led to introspection, Corkran said. And
that led the company to change the way it operates.
“I said, ‘let’s look at the federation as if it were new
today,’” Corkran said.
“’Let’s provide what our members want.’ We literally are
looking at everything we do and examining it. There’s nothing
that I’m not willing to look at, that B.A.S.S. is not willing to
look at and that ESPN is not willing to look at to support our
The schism helped wake up the company to the fact that
weekend anglers have an alternative to B.A.S.S. To avoid
creating that situation again, the company stays in closer
contact with members. Corkran communicates with state presidents
“If we’ve made any specific change, it’s in the way we talk
and more importantly, the way we listen,” Corkran said.
Part of that communication is to relate to members what an
organization like ESPN can offer. Since it bought B.A.S.S. it
has expanded the youth program and started the Junior World
Championship. It doubled the organization’s conservation staff
and started scholarship programs.
Television coverage of the Federation National Championship
went from a 30-minute show aired months after the event to an
hour show broadcast soon after the event. And it dedicated more
space in B.A.S.S. Times to the Federation Nation.
“ESPN had some deeper pockets,” Corkran said. “They were able
to bring some things to the table that were never financially
possible under a small, family-owned company.”
Losing 30,000 members is never a good thing in any
organization. But some good things did come out of it, Corkran
“I think the dust has settled and as I tell the federations,
certainly the split was horrible,” Corkran said. “Nobody wanted
it to happened. However, as in many organizations, we have come
back stronger than we were in pre-split. Not stronger in numbers
but we’re growing steadily.”
One thing that certainly arose from the split is opportunity.
Dana Beavers is president of both the Fayette Bass Club, and
Alabama TBF affiliate and the Frog Level Bassmasters And Alabama
Federation Nation affiliate. Both clubs sponsor the Dixie Junior
Bassmasters, a juniors club.
“In the two years I’ve had the junior club in February we’ll
send the fourth child to a national championship on either the
FLW side or the B.A.S.S. side,” Beavers said. “It’s a great
opportunity for them.”
B.A.S.S. has been in the business for years and has an
advantage over FLW when it comes to youth events, she said. But
she likes the increased opportunity.
Club affiliation is important for insurance and Beavers feels
like the organizations’ offerings are comparable. Her two clubs
share many of the same members. Some are members of one and not
the other. But to many, it simply doesn’t matter, she said.
“It only matters to you if you are interested in living the
dream, in going to qualifiers and going on to the state level
and on to the national level,” Beavers said.
And two federations mean twice the opportunity to live the
dream Hendry said.
“It’s more opportunity,” Hendry said. “I have twice the
chances of making a state team and twice the chances of moving
to a national tournament.”
But two federations also mean twice the headaches for
officers. Beavers sometimes finds it difficult to keep the two
“I get so mixed up sometimes about who I’m talking to and
which person I’m talking to about which organization,” Beavers
There’s also just a general kind of discontentment that makes
“Whenever you have a split in a church, it hurts everybody,”
“Now there’s division. You need unity.”
It’s particularly noticeable with Fayette Bass Club. It’s the
largest bass club in a state with a rich tradition rooted in the
founding of B.A.S.S. There’s a tug-o-war pulling the club back
and forth between the two organizations.
“It makes it tough because you can’t please everybody,”
“Being president you get to hear all that. If you had just
one, it seems like it would be easier.”
Some anglers feel a stronger attraction to one organization
than the other. That was among the reasons Jason Lytton of the
Triton Trio Bass Club in Virginia decided to stay with B.A.S.S.
“It’s a dream,” Lytton said. “I won’t say it’s something
that’s in my reach. But it’s a dream. I’d love to have the
chance to do it.
“I grew up with bass. And to be in the Bassmaster Classic is
always the big picture and the biggest show.”
Hille is shooting for the Classic, too. But he also feels a
strong emotional attachment to B.A.S.S.
“I’m a life member of B.AS.S.,” Hille said. “I don’t plan on
leaving bass. I’ll stay with B.A.S.S. if I have to start my own
Lytton also had more confidence in B.A.S.S.’s ability to run
“The background and the grass roots of B.A.S.S. was why we
decided to stay with it. We felt like it would be the smoother
running organization,” Lytton said.
That’s why the Bass Club of Fort Worth, a Texas Federation
Nation affiliate, stayed with B.A.S.S., said James Bayless, one
of the club’s founding members. He wasn’t impressed when he
attended an organizational meeting for TBF.
“They wanted to be like the Federation Nation without the
knowledge of what they were doing,” Bayless said. “We like what
B.A.S.S. stands for, the conservation. It’s a good organization.
It’s been around a long time and it has a track record.”
Some seem to wonder if state officers made decisions too
hastily. Bill Kane, president of the State Line Bass Club, a
Tennessee TBF affiliate, said the decision seemed to be made on
emotional issues. The idea that ESPN was taking advantage of the
little guy played well with some bass club members.
Now that he’s in the TBF, Kane isn’t real sure he sees much
of a difference.
“I think ambivalent might be the answer,” Kane said. “I don’t
see anything about being one or the other.”
Having two organizations does give anglers more leverage,
Hendry said. Anglers need the federation to organize and market
tournaments. But the federations need anglers.
“Without us they don’t have anything to organize,” Hendry
said. “I worked long and hard to get them to understand that.”
It’s something Hendry feels both TBF and B.A.S.S. had better
get used to.
“Both of them have to realize that since the schism has
happened it’s going to stay that way,” Hendry said. “I don’t see
one getting an upper hand on the other.”