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George Kramer's Blog

WON News Column by George Kramer

WON’s resident bass expert, George Kramer, began his freelance writing career in 1973, then joined the Western Outdoor News staff in 1977. Kramer has been a staff member or regular contributor to the publication, producing a weekly bass fishing column, numerous features and currently serving as editor of WON BASS. His resume also includes two bass fishing books.               

George can be reached by email at
Old guys come through

While professional bass fishing has continued to be a “younger man’s game,” requiring far more stamina and pace than the recreational version of the sport, this past weekend, saw two “seniors” perform at the highest level in prominent competition.
Much ballyhooed by ESPN/BASS, Guy Eaker, 70, of North Carolina came to Clear Lake with the Bassmaster Elites, capturing third place with just over 90 pounds in four days of fishing. In what has been advertised as his final professional season, and he weighed over 20 pounds each day, ultimately finishing 8 pounds behind former Californian Byron Velvick’s 98 pounds, 6 ounces.
Velvick, no longer a kid himself at age 45, started fast, catching 29 pounds on the first day and it set the tone for the competition. That sack of fish, however, turned out to be the largest of the contest, with Skeet Reese, another 40-something, the only other angler in the field to catch five bass weighing more than 25 pounds, and that was his 25.1-pound sack on Sunday.
Clear Lake, obviously, is one of the premier big bass waters around, especially when you think of the average fish taken. But in the case of Eaker, to cross the country and be right in the thick of the race against a field full of his juniors, it was an impressive result.
But when I look at the WON BASS results from Saturday, I wonder if we didn’t see an even more remarkable performance at Lake Havasu, where Mike Folkestad, the seemingly ageless Californian, set an all-time tournament record for the lake, winning with 43.28 pounds.
Yet it was Friday, when he weighed in 26.62 pounds for five bass, that knocked the bass fishing community out of its seats. No organization records anywhere could find a one day catch exceeding 23 pounds, and that one must have been hidden in some vault.
Folkestad, however, made searching for obscure marks unnecessary, as he anchored his sack with an 8.64-pound largemouth, one of the heaviest ever taken in competition on Havasu. Folkestad, 69, has been competing on this water for 35 years, so he knows more than a little about its progression.
For that reason, he was stunned by the fact that even without the 8-pounder, his four other bass totaled 18 pounds, enough to be the largest sack on many a day on Havasu. But think of it? Other than Velvick’s first day sack, Folkestad’s record catch exceeded everyone else’s sack—at Clear Lake—over four days of trying!
Even Mike, the former San Diego, Pisces Bass Club member, had to marvel as he recounted this week’s tournament. “I’d catch a 3 or 3 ½ pounder and it’d go over the side. I couldn’t cull (with it).”
Tournament bass fishing remains a grind, certainly best suited for the fit and aggressive angler. But they better get hard at it. Today’s younger competitors may have to burn up quite a few birthdays before they match Folkestad’s record.
Bass columnist George Kramer, who hopes to live so long, can be reached by email at


Lesson from the Delta

 While the new generation of bass pros finished in the top spots in the Bassmaster Elite event on the Delta this weekend, it should be noted that several of the 12 finalists on Sunday were among the “household names” of the last 25 years.
Yes, California’s Skeet Reese lost by a mere ounce to Virginian John Crews who weighed 72 pounds, 6 ounces in the win. But I found it heartening to see the likes of Shaw Grigsby, Rick Clunn, Denny Brauer, Gary Klein and Zell Roland all around on the final day.
While none of these long-timers is ready to retire, the fact is, the pro game’s best have gotten younger and younger over the last decade. We now see mostly 30 and 40-year olds holding up the oversized checks, and there is a reason for this.
Many of the national tournaments are held when the water is warmer and the fish more aggressive. Those conditions favor the hard-charging, athletic fisherman who can cover water all day long with some type of reaction bait. In other words, the advantage goes to the younger pros.
But some conditions, typically colder water or unstable weather, require more deliberate fishing. Brauer, Grigsby and Klein are all known for their flipping prowess. However, it was Rick Clunn who voiced the changes he made in his game, which put him in concert with many of the rest of the top finishers.
At least twice on the ESPN broadcasts, he spoke about his analysis of his own approach over the last several years when he has not been as successful. He admitted, “I don’t do well in the spring tournaments,” and he determined the reason, “I like to fish fast.”
In kicking off his pro season in California (of course he must travel to Clear Lake next week) he determined that he needed “to slow down.” While he did not ultimately vie for the Delta championship, it a long season based on points, finishing in the top 10 is a major upgrade in his admitted “down” season.
Of course, there is part of me that is sort of disappointed that one ounce cost Reese $75,000 in winnings. On the other hand, he didn’t disappoint with his solid sacks each of four days, in a tournament everybody described was tough as nails. And his arch-rival Kevin VanDam—another fast-paced angler--was well down in the standings.
So from a fishing lesson point of view, seeing that slower, more deliberate presentations and not 400-pound thrust trolling motors on wrapped boats can produce for anglers of any age. And while the race may indeed go to the swiftest, when the fish are sluggish, you need to follow their lead.
Bass columnist George Kramer, having dropped 15 pounds in the last two weeks is also much swifter, and can be reached by email at

Who wants to take credit?

 WON BLOG By George Kramer

Garnering (or even giving) credit for contributions to the pool of knowledge or the advancement of certain science is natural occurrence. Over history, certain individuals have received credit for their fostering or advancing certain ideas or espousing certain conclusions, which then become entrenched in the thinking of the day.
In the scientific world, Ptolemy, the Greek or Egyptian, depending on what you ascribe to, put forth theory that basicall concluded that the Earth was the center of the universe. He even came up with tables to substantiate his “truths.”
Of course, he was dead wrong, but it took almost 14 centuries before somebody call him on it. The Pole, Copernicus, then got credit for a new view of the relationship of the heavenly bodies, which began a whole new trend in scientific study.
But new discoveries continue, and knowledge that was thought to be solid as granite suddenly crumbles. Like what happened between 1950 and a couple of years ago? My sure knowledge that there were nine planets in our solar system was shattered when someone figured out that Pluto really wasn’t a planet.
How can that happen?
Similarly, think of all we know, or proclaim to know about bass and bass fishing. We hear it said that “a bass is a bass” wherever you find it. But at what point is it behaving instinctively and at what point is its behavior a response to its environment?
For many years—and well before I ever made an intentional cast for the species—it was thought the black bass was shoreline dweller, regardless of the time of year. Then along came Buck Perry, whose efforts were directed off the banks, which led him to claim that most fish (bass) were not on the bank, but rather off shore.
Perry has been called the “Father of structure fishing” and his precepts are still followed today, and yet, his approach doesn’t even begin to address more recent observation. That is, instead of topographical or physical features, we are beginning to understand that beyond those hard components, there are, as Bill Siemantel suggests, “soft structures” as well.
Soft structure might include shadows caused by cliffs or clouds or a riffled water surface or even a dense school of bait. Of a similar ilk might be mudlines, temperature clines, even layers of algal growth—anything that might provide an advantage for a predator fish—if only for a few fleeting minutes.
We’ve had hints of this in the past, but it’s hard to break free from old thinking (see Ptolemy). For example, scientists have noted that in a white, shallow plastic tank, bass would position near a single black line painted on the side of the tank. There was no “object” present, but the fish behaved as if there were.
I’m not suggesting we disparage those who have received credit for their contribution in the past. Knowledge is not static, yet at any given moment in time, all we have is what we have. But the lessons we have learned in astronomy (and so many other fields) suggests whatever we think we know, may not be everything there is to know.
So be careful with who gets the credit.

Bass columnist George Kramer, who did not invent the backlash, but may have perfected it, can be reached by email at

Kevin VanDam: the best ever?

It was 18 years ago, working for Western Outdoor News, that I covered the Bassmasters Classic on the Potomac River.
The things I remember: Mike Folkestad qualified and I fished with him during practice. The first day of practice, however, was cancelled by the threat of Hurricane Bob. And Ken Cook, one of the leading names in pro fishing at the time, was the eventual champion.
The next year I returned to the Classic, this time on Logan Martin Lake in Alabama, where the catch was good, but the winner all but obscure. What I do recall, however, was a slender, quiet-spoken kid from Michigan standing with Ray Scott and Helen Sevier as he was recognized as the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year.
Just 24 years old, Kevin Van Dam had emerged as the leader among the storied names in the sport. While he only finished 13th in that particular Classic, he has since been crowned Angler of the Year four more times, and just this past Sunday he won his third World Championship.
Interestingly, Ken Cook, retired this past season, never again having reached the pinnacle of the sport.
Still, the one benefit of having been around for awhile (I covered my first Classic in 1981) is I have seen, fished and ridden with many of the greats over that time. So, when a writer on a prominent bass fishing website suggested that Kevin Van Dam might be the best ever bass fisherman (I’m sure he meant tournament bass fisherman) I paused.
Yes, among the Bassmasters, his three Classic wins in 20 tries is huge and his five Angler of the Year titles in the same span is unmatched. Yet, Van Dam is still one Classic win behind Rick Clunn who has four. And his Angler of the Year titles are four short of the mark set by Roland Martin.
But I will freely admit, those two legends fished in an earlier era. The mere progression of knowledge, equipment and the huge popularity of bass fishing have created, over time, a larger pool of experienced and talented fishermen. The natural consequence is anglers such as Van Dam, and Skeet Reese, Brent Ehrler and to a degree, Aaron Martens and others should be more advanced than their predecessors.
There is no doubt that under the present format of qualifying and the seasons typically fished, Van Dam could one day hold all the records for the important titles in the sport. And having spent time with him on the water, he is so much more fluid and versatile that the gunner we see on TV, and I have no doubt that he is the best today in the competitive ranks.
But the sport is more fractured than it once was so we don’t exactly know how the best anglers from other circuits might fare. But none seems quite so flawless. So, as I think about it, yes: Kevin Van Dam probably is the best tournament bass fisherman of all time. But with this reservation: he enjoys the benefits of a foundation built on all those who came before.
But all-time is a long time. As you read this, another, even more remarkable bass fisherman is likely developing. And 20 years hence…who knows what they will say about him?

Bass columnist George Kramer, who has picked out backlashes with the world’s best bass anglers, can be reached by email at

Strangled by braid?

I can remember a time when on a national news show, it was announced that the toy phenomenon of the era—the Cabbage Patch Doll—enjoyed such a sales run, there was no more market left to approach. The stats, as I recall, suggested that there had been enough dolls sold that every child on the planet could have at least two!

Fast forward ahead to fishing industry of this decade that introduced, waffled, then expanded its marketing of braided line. Since its arrival the fishing public has tried it, discounted some and then grudgingly, began to accept the “super” line as necessary.

Part of the public’s reluctance was due to handling and knot-tying issues, and the fact it was “different” from what they were used to. Some of that reluctance, of course was due to its price tag of three to five times that of the common nylon or copolymers available.

However, once spinning reel users figured out that line twist was almost a non-issue with braid, and that the ever-twisting mono could be scrapped for a few yards of fluorocarbon leader (regardless of its price tag) the pendulum seemed to swing.

Consider: Clearly, any typical user of monofilament lines could over the span of 24 months (one year to use up his existing supply of mono, and a second year to reap the cost benefits of braid) partake in a business trend that would put an end to tackle manufacturers as we now know them.

How? If you weren’t aware, the biggest margin in all tackle items belongs to nylon fishing lines. Even the most magical formulas featuring knot-strength, abrasion resistance, low stretch or tooth-pulling expedience, can be extruded for pennies on the mile. And because of that, and because every avid angler needs thousands of yards of it every year, the tackle/line manufacturers knew they could count on a certain amount of revenue annually.

But look what braid is doing. It’s changing consumer habits. They’re buying main line they don’t have to replace and less than one percent of the new fluoro or mono that they used to purchase. In five years, if this continues, it would be the equivalent of those two dolls for every kid. Fishermen will no longer buy fishing line—of any kind.

In order to compensate, manufacturers will have to charge 20 percent more for rods and reels, lures and plastic worms. What seemed like a great advancement in fishing will further compress the fishing industry, forcing extruders out of fishing and into the weed trimmer business--impacting another entire industry!

The thought grieves me. Should I join the ranks of high-tech fishermen, learn the double-uni knot, and go to my grave with enough leader material to wrap around the Earth three times?

Or should I continue to change line every trip or two, dragging it behind the boat to stretch and straighten? Should I be the one to stand as a beacon for nylon line extruders and the thousands of bass I have thusly yanked?

I’ll listen to any offers.

Bass columnist George Kramer, who thinks many industry cash flow issues could be solved with a “dollar menu,” can be reached by email at

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