By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
FLW pros will be limited to six tour-level events in 2013 under the schedule released by the organization today. The Majors format remains intact, but the four Opens that have been offered in each of the last 2 years have been scrapped for next year, when the circuit will play out across only five states in the southeastern quarter of the country.
In the press release, FLW cited "an adjustment to the current market demand" as the reason for the discontinuation of the Opens. That likely equates to decreased sponsorship revenue and/or less-than-adequate registration numbers.
"I'd like to see more Major tournaments, but it looks like a pretty good schedule to me," said veteran Arkansas pro Ron Shuffield. "More events would mean chances to make more money. I say that, though, and then I decided not to fish the Opens this year."
Said longtime Minnesota pro Jim Moynagh, who is competing in this year's Opens: "It leaves the professional bass fisherman less of a chance to make money at the sport, but it is what it is. Maybe I can substitute with some tournaments I can find locally, but it's been a challenge there, too.
"I do believe that (FLW is) looking out for the best interests of the sport, both with the young anglers they're trying to recruit and the ones at the top level. There's a balance that they have to find, and when things have to be cut, certain people are going to be ruffled a little bit. They're always willing to hear the opinions of anglers and I may try to impart some of my opinions, just in case they're not already aware of the economic liability (for the competitors)."
Here's a look at the schedule:
> Feb. 7-10 -- Lake Okeechobee -- Clewiston, Fla.
> March 7-10 -- Smith Lake -- Jasper, Ala.
> April 11-14 -- Beaver Lake -- Rogers, Ark.
> May 16-19 -- Lake Eufaula -- Eufaula, Ala.
> June 6-9 -- Grand Lake -- Grove, Okla.
> June 27-30 -- Lake Chickamauga -- Dayton, Tenn.
> Aug. 15-18 -- Red River (Forrest Wood Cup) -- Shreveport/Bossier City, La.
The Opens were a repackaged version of the former FLW Series, which was a national-level circuit in its first year (2006), then was divided into Eastern and Western divisions from 2007-10. Finishes did not count toward the Angler of the Year (AOY) race, but the events paid out Tour-level purses and the Top 5 in the points gained early entry into the following year's Forrest Wood Cup.
Veteran Minnesota pro Jim Moynagh isn't happy that next year's FLW Tour schedule will be reduced by 40 percent, but he understands that a balance must be struck during tough economic times.
This year's first Open at Okeechobee in February drew a maxed-out field of 160 anglers. That number was down to 136 last week at the Detroit River. Two Opens remain on this year's schedule – Sept. 20-23 at Wheeler and Oct. 11-14 at Sam Rayburn.
Next year's six-event FLW slate does not overlap on any date with the previously released Bassmaster Elite Series schedule, which opens up the opportunity for anglers to qualify for both championships (the Cup and the Bassmaster Classic). It will present some logistical difficulties, though, for events that take place in consecutive weeks at venues that are as far as 830 miles apart (La Crosse, Wis. to Dayton, Tenn.).
If an Elite Series angler were to qualify for the Cup, he'd have to get from Ogdensburg, N.Y. (the St. Lawrence River) to Shreveport, La. very quickly. Those cities are separated by 1,526 highway miles, and competing in both might necessitate two boats and a plane ticket.
Ish Monroe, perhaps the busiest pro in the game over the past several years, is up for the challenge.
"I did it before (in 2010), and there's no reason I wouldn't do it again," he said. "I'm single and I don't have any of those types of obligations, and qualifying for both championships goes a long way when it comes to sponsorship deals.
"To make the kind of money I want to make, I've got to be able to fish more than six or eight tournaments."
Payouts for the FLW Tour Majors are unchanged, with pro anglers competing for a top award of up to $125,000. Entry fees remain at $4,000 per event.
With a full field (150 to 160 competitors), the paybacks will be $10,000 through 50th place and $4,000 through 60th place on the pro side.
FLW also announced that the 2013 BFL All-American will be held at Nickajack Lake in Chattanooga, Tenn., in conjunction with the Chickamauga event.