By Todd Ceisner
The scaled-back 2013 FLW Tour schedule caught some pros by surprise while others say it was to be expected given the still-stagnant economy and slumping field sizes.
Either way, the elimination of the four Opens that were offered in 2011 and 2012 will pose an even stiffer challenge for those who make a living with a rod and reel in their hands.
While the pros BassFan spoke with say they remain committed to fishing FLW tournaments, some said theyíll have to explore other options in order to fill gaps on their calendars next year. For some, thatíll mean increased participation in EverStart Series events, which suffered cutbacks on the payout side for 2013, and possibly B.A.S.S. Opens.
ďAs of right now, Iíll fish all six Tour events, but obviously I will have to fill in the gaps with other stuff,Ē said Illinois pro Chad Morgenthaler, whoís fished the FLW Tour since 2004 and fished all four Opens last year. ďThatís the bad part. Iíll probably fish some EverStarts and B.A.S.S. Opens, but thatís not exactly what Iíd hoped for because the moneyís just not there. They changed the EverStarts around to make a couple places better, but took money out elsewhere. That makes it hard because expenses will be the same or more and the payouts arenít going up.Ē
While FLW cited a "an adjustment to the current market demand" as the reason for shuttering the Opens, itís been speculated a significant sponsor loss may have forced FLWís hand.
The Opens were a derivative of the old FLW Series, which was a national circuit in its first year (2006), before being divided into Eastern and Western divisions from 2007-10. In 2011 and 2012, a four-event Open schedule was offered to supplement the Majors and paid back Tour-level purses and offered the Top 5 finishers in points early entry into the following year's Forrest Wood Cup.
ďI donít like it,Ē said Stetson Blaylock. ďI didnít fish the Opens this year just because weíre having a baby soon and I didnít want to miss those first few months. I like the Opens because it gave us guys something more to fish in the fall other than sitting around the house. In a normal year where I wouldíve fished them, without those tournaments, Iím going to have to go find a small job just to get through the winter now.Ē
To recap, here's a look at next yearís FLW Tour schedule, which consists of six events spread over five states in the Southeast and Midwest:
> Feb. 7-10 Ė Lake Okeechobee Ė Clewiston, Fla.
> March 7-10 Ė Smith Lake Ė Jasper, Ala.
> April 11-14 Ė Beaver Lake Ė Rogers, Ark.
> May 16-19 Ė Lake Eufaula Ė Eufaula, Ala.
> June 6-9 Ė Grand Lake Ė Grove, Okla.
> June 27-30 Ė Lake Chickamauga Ė Dayton, Tenn.
> Aug. 15-18 Ė Red River (Forrest Wood Cup) Ė Shreveport/Bossier City, La.
In terms of the elimination of the Opens being tied to field sizes, it's hard to tell. Of the six Opens held in the last 18 months (four in 2011 and two so far this season), the smallest field was 135 boats last September at Lake Champlain.
Field sizes in the Majors the last two years have dropped off through the season, going from 163 at Lake Hartwell to kick off this season to 126 at the season finale at Champlain. Last year, the drop off was similar (158 at Beaver Lake in the opener to 123 at Lake Pickwick).
Following is what several FLW Tour pros had to say about the schedule itself and the elimination of the Opens:
ďI just fished the FLW Majors this year and I was comfortable with that pace and was very happy with what I saw. I did the whole tour (Elite Series and FLW Tour) back in 2005 and with changing over and fishing FLW this year, it was something that was right on pace with what I wanted to do. The six events was, I think, a very comfortable amount and a fiscally responsible amount of events for what theyíre going to offer next year.
ďMaking a living is a relative term. If youíre solely looking to make a living off of straight-up tournament winnings, thatís a hard game to play. I donít care if it was in the heyday of fishing or the current moment Ė itís a hard thing to do. If you have other sponsors and other promotional opportunities and you have other things that you can do, this is the type of year where youíre going to need to do that and weíre all going to need to do that because itís a time when there needs to be a sense of responsibility. And thatís not just in fishing, but in everything thatís going on in this country.
ďI havenít sat down and thought about when Iím going to go pre-practice or taken too much into account. I donít do that much anymore. Whateverís dished out, I go show up and do my best and figure it out while Iím there. I donít do a lot of information seeking or pre-practicing anyway. I just feel it out as it comes and sometimes that works to my benefit and sometimes it totally doesnít.Ē
ďWe all knew something was coming from all the rumors we heard throughout the year. I donít know if I was expecting a six-tournament schedule and not maybe an eight-tournament schedule, but it caught me a little off guard, but itís something I can deal with.
ďI fish for a living so thatís what Iím going to do. Iíll fish the six tournaments for sure and probably at least one division of EverStarts.
ďIím happy with the places weíre going. Every place weíre going to Iíve been to a time or two and itís all in the right time of year for my liking. Iím excited about it and weíll get through next year and hopefully some more sponsors will come on board and weíll have even more the year after it. Iím hyped up about it and I know a lot of people might be talking doom and gloom, but I learned long ago that there are lot worse things going on in the world than just having six tournaments to fish.Ē
Dave Wolak won't be affected as much as others by FLW's decision to cut the Opens from its 2013 schedule.
ďIím still leaving my options open. I will do something more next year. I just havenít figured out what itíll be yet. Iím weighing my options and want to see what my sponsors want me to do more than anything.
ďThe toughest one that I see is Lewis Smith. Iíve never been to Eufaula, but Iíve heard itís not near as good as it used to be so I donít know what to expect. Any time you go somewhere new, you donít have any preconceived notions about where or how you should be fishing. Beaver is coming on, but itíll be the same old, tough Beaver. The guys will catch them there and the fish are getting bigger. If we hit it at the right time, it could be as good as any place we go.
ďIím maybe a little different than anybody else in that I donít really look at the schedule right away. Iíll read up on the lake and what theyíll be doing when we get there, but Iíve learned during my short time out here that you can put too much thought into it too early. Iíll take what I need and then see what happens when we get there.Ē
ďI was very disappointed in the six-tournament schedule and itís really disappointing for a Northern boy like me. Itís the absolute worst schedule for a Northerner, so Iím going to have to think long and hard about whether Iím going to do it. I just might have to stick to the EverStarts and Northern (B.A.S.S.) Opens.Ē
ďI know FLW is doing everything they can do and I totally understand that, but itís really hard for me because now I have to make my living 6 weeks out of the year. I know I fish a lot of EverStarts and stuff like that, but tournaments where you can make at least $10,000 is where you make your money. Now I only have six chances at it and it sucks.
ďI want to be very adamant, Iím not blaming FLW. I know theyíre doing whatever they can do. Theyíre not having fewer tournaments to have fewer tournaments, but it sucks for me. When I first started fishing, everybody fished the B.A.S.S. Top 150s and the FLW Tour. Itís what you did. I wish it would get back to that. I wish we could fish both. Next year, the Elite Series guys are going to have that option, but the FLW guys arenít so that sucks, too, for us. Now, the B.A.S.S. guys just got more tournaments and we got less.
ďPersonally, I love the schedule. I donít like Beaver or Smith Lake because theyíre deep, clear lakes, but early April at Beaver means theyíll be on the beds so I like it that week of the year. And with Smith Lake in March, if thereís a time you want to fish a deep, clear lake itís either when theyíre on the beds or right before they go on beds.
ďOkeechobeeís great any time of year, especially in February or March. All the rest of them are going to be offshore ledge-fishing type lakes and thatís what I love to do now. For me, I think itís going to be sweet. It just stinks thereís not four more of them.Ē
ďThatís a goofy schedule. Iíve not been to most of those places like Eufaula or Grand. Iíd rather have gone to Chickamauga in the spring like the last time we were there.
ďIím lucky to be able to fish their circuit. Itís a great circuit. Theyíre the best thing going by far. B.A.S.S. has 100 guys and itís easy to fill (a field) with 100 guys. Itíd be tight to get into an FLW (Tour) event in there with 100 guys. An extra 50 is a lot of guys. It is what it is and Iíll make the best of it. Iím happy to be part of it.Ē