Trust me, I desperately wanted to stay off the umbrella rig controversy, really I did. That is, until I saw Mark Zona’s “Awesome Fishing Show” last week. Not only does Zona deliver an eminently watchable program, he puts a little reverse topspin on it. Instead of doing an umbrella rig show and inviting some company honk to sing its praises, he wrangles a guy who unabashedly hates the thing, Jeff Kriet.
To Kriet’s everlasting credit, he showed up and suffered an epic Guntersville butt-whipping at the hands of the Z-Man. In doing so, he became the poster boy for every professional bass angler who views the rig as a cats-living-with-dogs, bass fishing Armageddon.
Halfway through the show, Zona had reduced Kriet to a goggle-eyed hot mess. Quite frankly, it was hard to fathom how this guy has risen to tournament semi-stardom shackled with so much self-doubt. Either Kriet is really, really good at fishing every other lure or maybe, just maybe, his competition is not all that and a bag of swim baits. I’m convinced of the latter.
The umbrella rig controversy has spotlighted an uncomfortable truth about professional tournament fishing: There is a relatively small cadre of elite anglers who are consistently in contention and then there is everyone else. Specifically, the 40-60 Club who pay the freight, find the leader board only on occasion and generally are miles away from the weigh-in when the big name pros are reveling in the roars from the crowd. These are the anglers who the top pros now fear. Even if it’s only for a year or two, even if it’s only for a tournament or two, the umbrella rig has made them dangerous. Simply put, the pros don’t want to share – or learn.
For me, I had to hear it firsthand, specifically “What the hell is going on?”
“If you don’t like the umbrella rig, you can turn the channel,” quipped Zona. “But, I’m intrigued.”
If you think that Mark Zona is somehow different in real life than he appears on television, think again. He is a total dick. In my world, this is high praise. I am a dick and I carry the banner proudly. To me, a dick is someone who points to the emperor and shouts, “You are butt naked, dude!” That, my friends, is Mark Zona.
“Listen, there were other ways to catch fish on Guntersville, but no other way to catch them this good. I try to put my best foot forward with each show and it was obvious that, going to Guntersville, you only needed to tie on one f-ing rig.”
As the conversation continued, we both plumbed the depths of our collective experience and neither of us could come up with anything that has ever created such a divide in bass fishing. When Zona told people he was going to Guntersville for an umbrella rig show, he marveled at the reaction.
“It was either complete intrigue or ‘Are you really going to kiss your cousin down there?’”
Rarely, if ever, on a bass fishing program will you see any pro experience a true epiphany. For Kriet, it looked like a religious experience. Suddenly, he knew that every stupid, knee-jerk response he ever ascribed to the umbrella rig was pure crap. I guess if it requires an on-the-water beat down from a trusted friend to reach a moment of clarity, then I hope every tournament pro has a buddy like Zona.
Honestly, isn’t this what average, non-pampered pros do to one another whenever they have the chance? We bury our partner. We stomp on their heart and smash that sucker flat. And, we wait for the moment when they give up all pretense of ego or hubris and then casually mention there may be another rig just like the one we’re using in the rear locker. That, my friends, is one of the true joys of bass fishing.
Unfortunately, the pros don’t see it that way. Taking the advice or direction of lesser mortals is no longer in their DNA. For them, the learning curve ends when they have to listen to anyone not in their orbit. If you have the chance, ask any pro this question: Do you have a lure in your boat that you won’t throw because it just catches too many fish? I’m sure you won’t get an answer.
At least with Mark Zona, we have someone in this industry who hasn’t let success cloud his better judgment or erase the core values of why we all love this thing in the first place.
As Zona put it, “I cannot learn enough.”