A new road to the Olympics could begin Friday when the Pan American Bass Fishing Championship opens at Lake Hamilton.
The two-day tournament, which will end Saturday, includes teams from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, South Africa and the Philippines.
Some of the greatest names in bass fishing will represent the United States, including Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Roland Martin of Clewiston, Fla., Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla., Stephen Browning of Hot Springs, Joey Cifuentes of Clinton, John Cox of Debary, Fla., David Dudley of Lynchburg, Va., Tyler Rivet of Raceland, La., Michelle Jalaba of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Hannah Wesley of Junction City, Ky., Keith Carson of Debary, Fla., Brock Mosley of Collinsville, Miss., Brian Latimer of Belton, S.C., and Fred Roumbanis of Russellville.
Roland Martin won a record nine Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles. Nixon, winner of the 1983 Bassmaster Classic, qualified for 23 Classics and won two Angler of the Year titles. Cox won the 2016 Forrest Wood Cup, which Hot Springs hosted a record five times, including the 2011 edition that Scott Martin won at Lake Ouachita.
With its history of hosting big tournaments, Hot Springs is a fitting host for the Pan American Fishing Championships, itself a prelude to the World Fishing Championships in 2026 which Hot Springs will host, as well.
The objective for these events is to demonstrate to the International Olympic Committee that bass fishing should be added as any Olympic event at the 2028 Summer Olympics.
To that end, the United States has assembled a dream team of members similar in stature to the Dream Team that established basketball as an Olympic sport for the first time at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The U.S. anglers have a combination of star power, name recognition, media presence, inter-generational, and mass cultural appeal that could persuade the IOC to add fishing to the mix of events.
Bass fishing has been a proven television commodity for more than 20 years. During its time as an ESPN property, the sports network figured out how to package fishing as a compelling event for television. ESPN incorporated elements of NASCAR coverage, highlighting fast boats wrapped in bright, eye-catching sponsor graphics. It also accentuated the sport's most compelling personalities.
Major League Fishing continues to refine bass fishing as a TV-friendly sport and make it interesting for a non-endemic angling audience, especially with its start-to-finish coverage on the internet.
There is not much that Nixon and Roland Martin have not accomplished in their storied careers, but Nixon is excited about the possibility of adding an Olympic medal -- preferably gold -- to his already well-stocked trophy case. Browning is equally excited. They are even more excited about the possibility of being the first anglers to represent their sport in the Olympics.
Adding bass fishing to the Olympics would heighten public awareness about sport fishing, access to fish resources, and the importance of water quality around the world. Bass fishing, via the Olympics, would be a powerful platform to demonstrate for a worldwide audience the progress the United States has made to provide its citizens clean water and accessible public fishing opportunities.
A possible detractor is a lack of international competitiveness. The U.S. team is poised to dominate, especially with several anglers fishing on very familiar waters. Jeff Gustafson, a Canadian, won the 2023 Bassmaster Classic. Mexico has some of the world's best bass fishing, but it is not very accessible to Mexico's public. South Africa has produced excellent bass anglers in the past.
Beyond them, we wonder if any of the other teams will even catch a fish. We have seen over the years how difficult it is for the best United States anglers to catch fish on Lake Hamilton in the summertime.
Hot Springs landing this tournament and the World Championship testifies to Steve Arrison's vision as executive director of Visit Hot Springs to reinforce the city's reputation as truly a worldwide bass fishing destination. It also testifies to the power of relationships. The Pan American Fishing Championship is a collaborative effort between Arrison and Charlie Evans, a longtime vice-president of FLW that was instrumental in bringing so many championship tournaments to the city.
Hopefully, their vision will blossom into an Olympic presence.