By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The 80 angler invitations for the inaugural season of the Bass Pro Tour have gone out and a lot of established tour pros are miffed that they weren't on the list. Boyd Duckett understands their angst.
"There are some great and respected anglers who unfortunately won't be able to be part of this Ė not yet," the former Bassmaster Classic champion and Major League Fishing co-founder said this week, shortly after plans for the new top-level circuit were announced. "It's not about how many tournaments you've won and it has nothing to do with who you know.
"We picked 80 guys who we think can help us take this thing to the next level, and we probably could've chosen another 80. We did the best we could."
The identities of all of the invitees are not presently known, but the list includes many of the top names in the sport and the majority are current Bassmaster Elite Series competitors. It definitely includes the 28 anglers who compete at MLF's Cup level (Tommy Biffle, Denny Brauer, Brent Chapman, Jason Christie, Mark Davis, Ott DeFoe, Duckett, Brent Ehrler, Edwin Evers, Shaw Grigsby, Greg Hackney, Tim Horton, Mike Iaconelli, Alton Jones, Kelly Jordon, Gary Klein, Jeff Kriet, Bobby Lane, Aaron Martens, Mike McClelland, Ish Monroe, Andy Montgomery, Takahiro Omori, Keith Poche, Skeet Reese, Dean Rojas, Kevin VanDam and Jacob Wheeler).
The new tour is a collaboration between the Professional Bass Tour Anglers Association (MLF anglers) and Outdoor Sportsman Group (parent company of the Outdoor Channel, which has been the PBT's media partner in MLF from the get-go), with title sponsorship from Bass Pro Shops. OSG is also BassFan's parent company.
A series of meetings at several locations will take place late this week and into the weekend at which the invitees will be presented the specifics of the 2019 Bass Pro Tour (schedule, format, entry fees, payouts, etc.). The new circuit will consist of eight regular-season events and a championship contested under MLF-style rules in which, among other things, all scoreable fish will be weighed and immediately released and anglers will know their place in the standings throughout the day.
The anglers will then be asked to make a 3-year commitment that will not prohibit them from fishing with any other organization, but will make concurrent participation in the Elite Series or FLW Tour likely impossible due to simple logistics. How much time they'll be given to make that decision hasn't been revealed.
"It's a big step for these 80 guys because we're asking them to quit their jobs as they know them and help us start something that we believe in," Duckett said. "For that commitment, we want to guarantee them 3 years."
Duckett wouldn't estimate the number of commitments that he thinks the BPT will get from the initial invitees, but he expects the percentage to be high (a second phase of invitations will take place if necessary).
Duckett was quick to point out that the BPT will have no sponsor restrictions.
"I'm sure there will be some (who decline), but I can't imagine an angler who wants a pro career making a choice other than this one, and when they see the details of it, they'll understand why. The payouts, the media platform, the potential for the growth of the sport, the whole package that they get to be a part of ... when they see the horsepower that's strapped to our rocket, they'll have a good idea of what this thing's capable of."
Will Everyone Benefit?
Duckett said it's his firm belief that the creation of the BPT will eventually benefit the entire bass fishing industry, including the other two top-level tours and pro anglers outside the BPT's ranks. He knows that won't assuage anglers left off the initial invitation list.
"Sometimes the water has to rise before all the ships can come up with it," he said. "Unfortunately, like a lot of people, anglers are reactive and they don't know the long-term plans and they have no idea of how much energy has been put into trying to change the sport of pro bass fishing. This partnership we've created with OSG and (Bass Pro Shops founder) Johnny Morris' belief in growing the sport are all about protecting the future of the sport and taking it to the next level.
"My only hope is that in the coming years they'll be able to recognize the value for everyone that's involved in tournament fishing. My vision is that this will succeed because we have big plans for teaching the rest of the world what tournament fishing is and creating a phenomenal fan base. A lot more people are going to understand what competitive bass fishing's all about."
> Duckett was quick to quash any rumors that the BPT would have any form of sponsorship restrictions placed on its anglers. "That is not the case," he said. "All sponsors are welcome."
> Plans call for the bottom 10 anglers in the BPT points standings to be relegated out of the tour after the 2021 campaign. Duckett said by that point a "feeder circuit" will have been established to provide replacements.