The Fishers of Men National Tournament Trail (FOMNTT) is a nonprofit, nondenominational ministry whose mission is to introduce Jesus to fishermen and their families and to invite them into a relationship with Him, through bass fishing tournaments. What began in 1998 as a small four-division tournament trail with a total of 21 events through the first season has now grown into one of the largest fishing tournament organizations in the country.
During the most recent season, 44 team tournament divisions and 34 Legacy divisions combined for over 300 tournament events. All tournaments are team events, with each team consisting of two members. Legacy division teams are also two-person teams. However, a Legacy team is made up of one member who is 19 or older, and one member who is under 19. Membership and participation are open to anyone without regard to religion, gender, age, or race.
Sports Destination Management: Competitive fishing seems to be picking up younger participants. Is this something you’re seeing at FOMNTT?
Bobby Eads: Things are really happening at the youth level. The biggest change in competitive fishing has been the introduction of high school and college teams. The college students really led the way with that. Then FLW and B.A.S.S. got involved and helped more teams get started; as a result, fishing went from a program in a few universities to being a really big deal at the national level. It’s not a traditional sport with the NCAA or in the high school associations, but it’s definitely growing.
What is interesting is that statistically, fishing used to be a dying sport. A few years ago, the average person fishing was male, age 40 to 50, and it just kept progressing and getting older. Now with the introduction of college and high school fishing, that demographic has changed drastically. When you bring in kids, you’re helping your sport survive.
SDM: Does FOMNTT have a youth competition?
Eads: We have our Legacy series; the two-person team must be made up of one person under the age of 19 and one person who is 19 or older. Out of the 300 events we do per year, 100 are Legacy events. The championship for the Legacy series is the most fun tournament we do all year. There are so many kids and so much excitement. You have kids from high school age all the way down to four- and five-year-old boys and girls. It is really fun to be able to look at the event through their eyes. We do have cash prizes for people who catch the most fish, but that’s not the big excitement; it’s the fact that someone is going to win a brand-new $50,000 Skeeter boat with a Yamaha motor in a random draw. Everyone who participates in the tournament gets their name entered. The first year we hosted the tournament, we had between 150 and 160 teams participating. I think at the end of two days, we had less than 10 teams who hadn’t caught any fish – and when we had the drawing, one of those teams won the boat. It was the best possible thing that could have happened.
SDM: What do you look for when you’re considering sites for a tournament?
Eads: We have local groups around the U.S. and they are responsible for asking their members where they think tournaments should be held. You need to let your members’ voices be heard; that’s how you drive up your membership. But what you’re really looking for is the quality of the fishing. Just because it’s fresh water and has fish doesn’t mean it has great fishing. We also look for an area with a CVB or a sports commission that is interested in working with us to help market the event because we’re a nonprofit. The willingness of the community to work with us is probably the most important factor; some communities are just great in terms of their involvement.
SDM: What factors influence the amount of participation in a tournament?
Eads: Our sport is affected by the price of gasoline. Consider that in order to get to a tournament, you have to drive your truck, towing your boat. Then you use the boat’s motor once you’re on the water. That can mean you’re spending $150 to $200 on gas alone or a one- or two-day tournament, so whether gas is two dollars or four dollars a gallon makes a big difference in how much it costs for you to attend and participate. The pro guys don’t have to worry about that; our members, though, are people who are fishing for recreation. This isn’t their full-time job so they’re spending their own money to do this.
SDM: FOMNTT is a religious-based program. Do you find that changes your demographic from that of other fishing tournaments?
Eads: We’re a morally-centered program. We’re a ministry first and a tournament group second. I’ve always said there are two groups that benefit from our work. There are people who are believers, and they like to attend because of what we stand for. This organization gives them fellowship and the ability to do something fun outside of church. They see the tournament as more than a luxury and more than a fishing tournament. The other people, those who are not necessarily believers, will come because we are just a really good tournament to attend and they know they’re going to have a good time.