April 16, 2014 by Colin Moore
In parts of China, where fishing for sustenance is more the rule than the exception, fish are still caught in the ancient manner: A domesticated cormorant, one of several the fisherman owns, is taken out on a body of water and allowed to dive down on a tether and catch fish. A ring temporarily placed around its neck constricts the cormorant's gullet and prevents it from swallowing fish of a certain size, however. Once the fisherman feels that the bird has been down long enough, he retrieves it and "milks" the cormorant's neck until all the larger fish it has caught are deposited in a basket. Then the process begins again, with the bird able to eat the smaller fish it catches as payment. Imagine, then, how strange it must seem to most Chinese that there are fishermen who lure bass with plastic devices resembling various creatures that fish eat. Small barbed hooks in the lures devoured by the fish hold them fast to the line, and they are retrieved with reels and rods that quickly tire them so they can be brought to the boat. And all this for the fun of it, yet elevated into an art form celebrating skill and cunning. Strange, but fascinating too, which is the reason that Meng He and Weng Zhen travelled 7,000 miles from their hometowns in China to Rogers, Ark., to fish in the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Rayovac and hosted by Visit Rogers on Beaver Lake. Weng and Meng embody the burgeoning interest in sport fishing that has captivated many Chinese, or at least those who belong to an emerging middle class with more time - and money - to spend. Before about 2007, lure fishing for bass in China was so exotic a notion as to be practically nonexistent. Now there is a television network and an active tournament organization that collaborates with FLW to promote sport fishing in that country. Each year, the sanctioning tournament organization, COB, an adjunct of the Happy Fishing television network, conducts five tournaments, and the top three qualifiers are accorded co-angler berths in a Walmart FLW Tour event. The 59-year-old Meng and 38-year-old Weng won the chance to fish Beaver Lake, along with another qualifier who declined the trip for personal reasons. A representative of Happy Fish and an interpreter accompanied Meng and Weng to the U.S. Though bass fishing is a relatively new sport in China, and though tournament anglers there fish from 10-foot-long boats powered by electric motors instead of Rangers with 250-hp outboards, Chinese anglers are quick studies when it comes to the art and craft of luring bass. Weng and Meng showed up at Beaver Lake with rods made by G. Loomis and reels from Ke Tou, a Chinese company whose reels look and perform like those sold in the U.S. As for lures, the latest and greatest from Japan are just as popular in China as they are in this country. Meng caught some undersize bass, but he didn't get to weigh in any keepers. Weng, on the other hand, weighed in three in the second round that he caught on a Megabass 110 jerkbait. The Beaver Lake tournament culminated Meng's first visit to the U.S. Weng has fished four Walmart FLW Tour tournaments now and sums up the whole experience with one of the few English words he knows: "cool." Meng says that he would like to return and fish other American lakes, but, given his age, knows that perhaps this was his one and only chance to visit the U.S. and participate in a fishing tournament at the highest level of competition. Weng is more passionate and hopeful. A Ranger boat is on his bucket list - even though at present China doesn't allow boat trailers on its roads - as well as the chance to fish other tournaments in the U.S. They speak a different language and come from a different culture, but Meng and Weng are otherwise like American anglers, with the same goals and aspirations: to fish, to feel the excitement and sense of anticipation generated by competition, to succeed in some measure as much as they fail, and to wish their friends and fishing companions "Good Luck," and really mean it.