So, yeah, I haven't commented in many a moon on the sport of professional bass fishing. Professional bass fishing has been around in one form or another since the 1960s. However, it essentially hasn't changed in it's presentation or operation since then.
Okay, catch-and-release became a thing as did fish care and a major push recognizing that the anglers are some of the most important conservationists on the planet, well at least their license purchases make them so.
Josh Bertrand. (BassFIRST)
But each different organization brings something to the table that is valuable.
The Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) has been sold multiple times over the years promising great change and opportunity for the anglers at each and every turn, yet they haven't really done much for the anglers except provide a place they could pay to come and fish and hopefully get some exposure and make a little dough. Although the creation of BASS Live covering the Top 4 or sometimes 5 anglers in a tournament fishing almost the entire day was surely revolutionary and really exposed how tournament pros fish. Now, that is really good stuff.
On the flipside, they foolishly moved the Bassmaster Classic, the one-time B.A.S.S. championship, to the beginning of the following year and now it doesn't even kickoff the season, it happens after a few events started. Frankly, that decision has made the Classic a big one-off event and has lost the luster and importance of what it once was. Still, it's a major event to participate in and win, just not as big and not as much money as it used to be.
So, B.A.S.S. really hasn't changed that much, oh except for losing the overwhelming majority of their top professional anglers to Major League Fishing (MLF).
Do the letters FLW stand for Forrest L. Wood or Fishing League Worldwide? Either way, the FLW Tour hasn't changed one lick except copying B.A.S.S. with some live coverage. The FLW is still the place where any angler can come a pony up the cash and play. Like B.A.S.S. the FLW Tour business model has always, at least seemingly, had to rely on the anglers gambling their own money and playing for their own moolah. The FLW used to be a place to sell Ranger Boats, but they're no longer owned by the same crew. Still the focus there is to push (very heavy-handed) their sponsors' products when interviewing. Can you imagine Tiger Woods having to put his own money in to play against other professionals? That's preposterous. Can you imagine Tiger Woods getting interviewed and all he could talk about was one sponsor or another?
Now the "new-ish" kids on the block, the MLF (Major League Fishing) and the MLF Bass Pro Tour. This group is comprised of business investors, a media company and angler investors. Gary Klein and Boyd Duckett are the driving forces behind its creation from the angler side of the table. So, what have they done to really change anything in professional bass fishing?
Well, only time will tell how it all works out, but they've created an actual professional sports league. Anglers no longer pay entry fees and yet still get paid for their work. The better they perform of course, the more money they win. Just like professional golf. That in and of itself is certainly revolutionary and a break from the 50-plus year system of playing for your own money that B.A.S.S. and the FLW Tour use.
Also, fish are weighed and immediately released. This is huge as far as conservation goes. Kudos to MLF for that. This decision is certainly as big as anything else they have done to this point since it creates a much more harmonious relationship between local anglers and the pros. No more moving fish off beds in a livewell for a bumpy hour-long ride, more more dead fish due to faulty livewells or overheated water. Bravo indeed.
Another thing MLF has done is given hope to the top pros that they can continue in the sport, grow the sport and leave a legacy of true professionalism. I spent time recently with many MLF pros. Each person gave that similar opinion. There is now hope and true potential to grow the sport.
In the end, change is often unpleasant, change often feels hard, forced and confrontational. Still, not all change is good. The Bassmaster Elite Series lost most of its anglers, that's not good for their business. It certainly is no longer the elite place to play the game. The FLW Tour is pretty much the same reliable place to pay to play. The new MLF Bass Pro Tour promises greatness. Let's hope in three years (the length of the commitment the anglers had to agree to to fish MLF) we don't look back and say "its too bad, it had such great potential". The worst phrase in sports.