(Editor's note: This is this first part of a 2-part article on John Sappington's thinking about next season and the future of the sport. For Jay Yelas' opinions on the patch, take a look at today's BassFan Opinion.)

FLW Championship winner and former two-tour pro John Sappington won't fish the BASSMASTER Tour next year.

"It was a tough decision for me," he said. "I don't want to bash any (league) or anything. I just feel like the FLW circuit lines up for me a little better."

Several Factors

Lining-up better for Sappington involved several factors. One is the pre-fish time. On the FLW Tour "you can pre-fish more than 2 1/2 days," he said. "For a lot of these lakes I don't have a networking system to where when I get there, I know where the fish are. I go out and find fish on my own, and it takes me more than 2 1/2 days to do that."

Another is the schedule. While some anglers are looking forward to the intense early-spring schedule caused by the BASSMASTER Tour, others -- including Sappington -- aren't. And for him, that caused a boat-company problem.

"I was approached by Snickers to be a member of the Snickers team," he said. Then he was approached separately by Ranger (at the time he was with Triton). He toyed with the various possibilities, and kept coming back to the fact that he "didn't like the way B.A.S.S. was set up. If you're fishing two (B.A.S.S.) tournaments a month, you can't fish FLW."

Because of the above factors, plus the fact that he is the reigning FLW champion and that the payouts will be high on next year's FLW Tour, he definitely wanted to fish FLW. But staying with Triton meant he had to fish the BASSMASTER Tour too, and "it was just too much to fish both of them," he said. "B.A.S.S. set it up to where it's too much."

The Patch and The Sign

Sappington had been approached by Snickers and Ranger, and had promotional opportunities with other FLW Outdoors sponsors. When he added it all up, "going with FLW meant four times what going with B.A.S.S meant (for him) money-wise," he said. But still he was undecided.

"I prayed about it, and really felt a lot of loyalty toward Triton Boats because they've been with me since I started. They've invested time and money into me waiting for me to win the Classic or something, so I was really torn. I prayed about it and said, 'Give me a sign.' Right then Todd Faircloth called me and said, 'Have you seen this deal where if we don't wear the (Busch) patch we don't get any points?' That was what made my decision.

"I understand why B.A.S.S. is doing it," Sappington said. "I realize that the way B.A.S.S. is set up with getting their sponsors through TV that they need to do whatever they can to try to attract sponsors.

"And I understand that a lot of Christian people feel that in NASCAR that (the drivers have to wear) Winston and Busch patches. But in NASCAR they're driving in the Winston Cup series or the Busch series. We're fishing CITGO's BASSMASTER Tour. We're not fishing Busch's BASSMASTER Tour.

"Busch has the Angler of the Year (AOY) program. So if we don't wear the patch, if we win AOY we shouldn't get the money. But I don't think they should take points away (for not wearing the patch).

"My question is, what's coming down the road? What if next year CITGO says, 'Busch is doing this, we're paying all this money too, we want a bigger patch.' Then Coke comes on and wants a patch. Where do you draw the line?

"FLW says you can't wear (non-Tour wear on the final two days of competition)," he noted, "but they're not saying 'You have to wear this.' And if you wear sponsor shirts, you get paid for it."

He's also confident that FLW Outdoors will stay away from alcohol. "FLW is not going to come up to me and tell me to wear an alcohol patch. They sell beer in Wal-Marts, but the (FLW) organization is not going to do that. Based on that, that organizations aligns better with me."

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that Sappington is fishing the FLW Tour next year out of a Snickers-wrapped Ranger and is happy about it -- though he's not happy about some things he sees happening in the sport (more about that tomorrow).

On leaving Triton, he said: "That was a really hard decision for me. I really loved Triton Boats. Earl (Bentz, owner), Neal (Hart, sales chief) and everyone there have been fabulous to me. I love everyone there and feel somewhat like a traitor switching to Ranger, but I've been around Ranger Boats for years and like everyone with Ranger too. And Ranger also makes a great boat."

- End of part 1 (of 2) -

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