INSIDE THE WON BASS U.S. OPEN
Story by Dave Rush - Photos courtesy of WON BASS
Moore, OK - In 1981 the WON BASS U.S. Open made history as the first bass tournament to offer over $150,000 in payouts. To put that into perspective in 1981 Ronald Regan was starting his first term as President, the price of gas was $1.38 per gallon, and AC/DC Back In Black was the number one album on the billboard charts.
While a lot has changed since that inaugural showdown in the desert, much has remained constant when it comes to what many consider the toughest test in professional bass fishing. Legendary angler and two time U.S Open champion Rick Clunn has unequivocally stated “that if you do not have a U.S. Open title on your resume, you really can’t call yourself a true champion.”
Much, if not all of that unwavering respect that some of the top names in the sport have for the U.S. Open is due to the venue on which it is played out year after year. Lake Mead provides one of the purest tests of an angler’s skills, as well as their mental fortitude. This year’s dance in the desert was no different, as eventual champion Sean Stafford had to overcome quickly changing conditions, including a deluge which made national news after leaving the streets of sin city under several feet of water. Stafford’s victory fittingly marked the 30th different U.S. Open champion, which coincidently coincided with the 30th anniversary of the legendary event.
While the U.S. Open is a highly anticipated event on the west coast, it has often lacked the national exposure that it so rightly deserves. This year WON BASS along with help from their sponsors made history by making the event accessible via live webcast and the results couldn’t have been better. WON Bass tournament director and director of operations Billy Egan echoed those thoughts in a recent interview with THE BASS ZONE.
“The vibe has been 100% completely positive in all of the feedback that we at WON Bass have received about the live coverage of the event since the conclusion of the U.S. Open. The drama that was built up due to Sean having to remain in the Costa hot seat was second to none, and really brought an element to the Open that we haven’t had in years past,” said Egan.
With the international exposure that was garnered from the live webcasting of the 30th anniversary of the WON BASS U.S. Open comes the promise of increased participation for next year and beyond. Since returning from Las Vegas, Egan and his staff have been fielding numerous inquiries from anglers itching to be involved in next year’s event. “The live webcast and the instant feedback allowed us to reach an audience that we haven’t been able to reach in the past. We have received a lot of response from anglers who watched the event that are very interested in being involved in 2013, as well as calls from several potential sponsors that we wouldn’t typically hear from who are interested in being a part of the 2013 campaign. Both the anglers and sponsors who participated in the event this year couldn’t have been happier, and we are looking forward to a huge upswing in participation for next year’s Open,” concluded Egan.
Arizona pro Dean Rojas, who finished 8th in the 2012 WON BASS U.S. Open was pleased to see the event get some of the exposure that it has been lacking in recent years. Rojas, who maintains a national tournament schedule despite residing in Lake Havasu, always fishes the Open when his commitments allow it.
“Fishing the U.S. Open is always something that is really special for me since I cut my teeth fishing out here on the west coast. It is certainly a thinking man’s tournament, from dealing with the changing conditions year to year on Lake Mead, to the heat, or the monsoons, on down to managing your fish it is truly a grueling test. This year’s Open was particularly well run and promoted a little better than in previous years. Overall they did a great job with the event, although it didn’t excel in all the areas that it could have, but that will come in time. The live webcasting was something that they had never done before, and I think it really opened the eyes of fishing fans throughout the country that this is the biggest tournament in the west and that it deserves to get the exposure that it got this year.
"I think we saw a little spike this year and that the U.S. Open is on the upswing," he continued. "Hopefully the exposure they got this year will help them in attracting the type of sponsorships they need to be able to lure in more of the bigger name anglers from across the country, and that will allow them to increase the payout even more and make history once again. WON BASS is the only tournament organization in the country that has the title of the U.S. Open, and that is something that no one else can say. This event gives everyone an opportunity to come out and test your skills against the best in the world and you just can’t do that anywhere else,” said Rojas.
“Not only were fishing fans across the world exposed to the tournament itself, but some much needed light was shed upon some of the great anglers out west, since a lot of them haven’t gotten the exposure that they deserve. What I noticed this year was the great new crop of young anglers that are out on the west coast right now. There are about seven or eight of those guys who competed in the Open this year that are really good, and have that fire in the belly that it takes to compete on the highest level in this sport. I see a lot of great anglers traveling around the country, but I don’t think they have the refined skills that some of these young guys have out there on the west coast” concluded Rojas.
Local angler Jeff Hughes was one of the thousands of fans who tuned into this year’s U.S. Open via live webcast. Hughes, who has been following the WON BASS U.S. Open for over thirteen years as a fan, was blown away by this year’s coverage of the event. “I thought the coverage of the event was outstanding. It was nothing like I pictured the U.S. Open being from the articles and media coverage I had seen in the past. Being able to watch what went on this year has inspired me to really want to go and be a part of it next year,” said Hughes.
Hughes has already begun to see the results of the exposure the 30th anniversary of the U.S. open received in his own hometown of Hemet, CA. “Not only am I interested in going next year, but now after the exposure it has gotten a lot of the guys in my local bass club are interested in participating as well. Everyone really enjoyed the coverage of the event, and are hoping that if they don’t get to fish in the event next year that we will get the same great coverage that was available this year so we can feel like we are there,” concluded Hughes.