A New Brand of Bass

Jackson Kayak pro uses big-box platform to develop paddle-powered river fishing

Drew Gregory will be featured on Discovery Channel’s “When Animals Bite Back” program this Sunday (May 22) at 8 p.m. ET (re-airs at 11 p.m.). This story originally ran in the spring 2011 edition of Paddlesports Business.

By Christian Knight

Drew Gregory’s most successful promotional project was as easy as it was accidental. All the devoted kayak fisherman had to do was heckle a couple belligerent geese for being “dumb,” lose the ensuing fight and post the three-minute episode on YouTube. [CLICK HERE to see the video]

Three hundred thousand views later, the clip earned him appearances on America’s Funniest Home Videos and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno among others. Gregory’s most important promotional project, however, was a different story, one full of deliberation and complications.

The hard work began in the purgatory of unreturned e-mails and rejections. He traveled hundreds of miles from his Charlotte, N.C., home to Macon, Ga., and Birmingham, Ala., with only a hope for a chance meeting with a Bass Pro Shops manager who’d have the time for Gregory’s 30-second elevator spiel.

“I had to act like I was just passing through town, when I had really driven six hours just to talk to the guy,” Gregory, 31, says. “But if you want something in life, you have to go get it.”

And Gregory did just that—by traveling to five Bass Pro Shops all over the Southeast and describing to their operations and marketing managers a vision he had for an eco-friendly, river-fishing tournament. He’d call it the River Bassin’ Tournament Trail. You could walk, kayak, canoe or even inner-tube, if you wanted, he told them, so long as your craft had no engine. And you could catch any kind of bass, but you had to throw it back. He’d be capitalizing on digital cameras and PowerPoint to measure the fish.

Of course, Gregory wasn’t just a viral video star trying to peddle a fantasy. He was a professional kayak angler a few months from releasing his signature fishing craft: Jackson Kayak’s Coosa. And, as a high schooler and college freshman, he had worked for Atlanta’s Bass Pro Shop.

“Drew had been sending me video clips of streams that he had been fishing,” says Gregory’s old boss, Tommy Wilkinson, the 48-year-old operations manager at Atlanta’s Bass Pro Shop. “We had picked up on kayak fishing as the up-and-growing part of the sport. Drew brought this idea to me and I gave him an introduction to the marketing home office, based in Springfield, Missouri.”

The turnout was a little disappointing at that first event outside of Atlanta. The ones who did show, though, weren’t your average anglers. They were more experienced, more adventurous and more environmentally conscious than the norm. And the series built momentum. By the final tournament, the competitor pool had doubled to 48 and the chief sponsor, Bass Pro Shops, wanted more.

“It’s been very positive for the Bass Pro Shop,” Wilkinson says. “Bass Pro Shop is a very eco-friendly company. A tournament in that format expresses a lot of the philosophy that we advocate.”

Gregory is responding by expanding the 2011 tournament trail (riverbassintrail.com) to include up to 15 stops, including event series based in the Everglades and Texas Hill Country. “It was a lot of work to break even,” Gregory says. “It woultdn’t hurt to eventually do more than break even. It’s about the passion and sharing the sport. It’s about sharing the sport and getting people into it.”

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