By Todd Ceisner
The dominoes are starting to fall.
Through postings on their respective social media sites, 2016 Bassmaster Classic winner Edwin Evers and 2000 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year Timmy Horton announced Monday evening their intentions to compete on the recently-announced Bass Pro Tour in 2019.
Evers made the announcement on his Instagram page while Horton used a live video segment on his Facebook page to reveal his plans. They were the first known anglers of the 80 invited to publicly disclose their intentions to join the BPT next year, likely ending their distinguished Elite Series careers in the process. Both have been Major League Fishing competitors since the series began in 2011 and also have significant sponsorship ties to Bass Pro Shops, which is the title sponsor of the BPT.
In subsequent posts Tuesday, the following anglers also announced their plans to compete on the BPT in '19:
> Skeet Reese
> Marty Robinson
> Zack Birge
> JT Kenney
> Greg Hackney
> Jason Lambert
> Chris Lane
> Alton Jones
> Alton Jones Jr.
> Jeff Kriet
> Randall Tharp
> Gerald Spohrer
> Fletcher Shryock
> Dave Lefebre
> Michael Neal
> Andy Montgomery
> Kelly Jordon
> Mike McClelland
> Jared Lintner
Other BPT invitees have either until Thursday, Friday or Saturday (each was given a two-week timeline depending on which BPT meeting they attended) to decide to sign on. If anglers opt out, a second round of invitations will be sent out. Many competitors are weighing their options since B.A.S.S. announced significant enhancements to the Elite Series entry fee/payout system in the wake of the BPT launch. The week-long early-registration period for the 2019 Elite Series opens Wednesday.
Since beginning his B.A.S.S. career in 1997, Evers has 11 Bassmaster wins, including five Elite Series titles and the ‘16 Classic at Grand Lake. He’s won more than $3.1 million competing in B.A.S.S. tournaments. Evers’ announcement is embedded below:
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I’ve been at this just over 20 years, and I’m thankful for all the people and the organizations that have brought me to where I am today. I’ve experienced some of the greatest honors bass fishing has to offer, and I’m excited as I look forward to an even brighter future for all of fishing. I hope my brothers in this fraternity we call pro fishing will realize that we’ve never had a greater opportunity than we have right now, and that I’ve seen more positive change in the last two weeks than I have in the past 20 years. It’s a chance for us to finally control our own destiny, and at the end of the day, you have to decide whether you want to be the bass or you want to be the shad. I want to be the bass. I’m excited about 2019 and our future fishing @majorleaguefishingofficial next year.
Horton, whose B.A.S.S. roots date to 1996, is a two-time winner on the Elite Series and won the B.A.S.S. AOY award as a rookie. Horton’s video announcement is embedded below:
For Evers, the decision to move on from B.A.S.S., where he’d developed into one of the most consistent and versatile anglers of his era, came down to having the ability to shape the future of the sport with the BPT.
“I grew up loving B.A.S.S. and as a kid, that’s what we all knew and I’ve been blessed to be a part of it for 20 years,” Evers said. “After being a part of B.A.S.S. for 20 years I know there’s so much more we can do with the sport and we now have an opportunity to take it that next step. That made the decision easy.
“There is no personal agenda here. This is something these high school and college anglers now, down the road, are going to be in awe of. That’s who it will benefit.”
As successful as he’s been under the B.A.S.S. shield, Evers sees untapped potential with the BPT, which will have its own championship event and serve as the qualifying ground for the MLF Cups, of which Evers has won two.
“It’s hard when you work for someone else because you’re stuck in the box they put you in,” Evers added. “When you work for yourself, the sky is the limit. There are 79 other guys with a choice to make about which direction to go and sure there will be disagreements, but MLF is going in the direction we want to go. There is no ceiling or limit and there is nobody telling us where and when and how things will be done. This is what we’ve always wanted.”
Both Evers and Horton were aware of plans to launch a new tournament series as far back as a year ago, but Evers said once he saw the BPT structure on paper at a recent meeting of invitees, it became an easy decision.
“I’ve been pretty sound on the decision for a while and when the meetings came up, that blew it out of the water,” Evers said. “It was better than I’d ever dreamed it could ever be. We all want to have the chance to take the sport to the next level and I believe MLF is the way to make that happen.”
Other invitees who don’t have previous MLF experience have reached out to Evers with questions, mostly about the entry fee and payout structure and anticipated media exposure. He said if another undecided angler drops him a line, he’ll offer this:
“You’ve got to do what’s best for them and their family. I’d tell him to think long term and not short term. You want to know who’s driving the train and is it someone who does the same thing as you and loves it just as much or someone behind a desk?”
Evers believes there’s no reason why professional bass fishing can’t drive growth and participation in the sport the way professional golf has spurred growth at the grass-roots level.
According to a May 2018 article published on Golf.com, there are more than 23 millions golfers in the U.S. By comparison, a five-year study released in September 2017 by the U.S. Department of the Interior revealed more than 35 million people engaged in the sport of fishing. Evers says the BPT and MLF provides the avenue to reach that broader audience.
“It still feels like the sport of bass fishing is in its infancy stages because it’s never been taken to the next level,” he said. “It has always been in the same box. With MLF, there is no ceiling.”
Evers recently finished 8th at the 2018 Elite Series AOY Championship and qualified for his 18th career Classic, set for next March in Knoxville, Tenn. He said he hasn’t given any thought yet to that likely being his 232nd and last B.A.S.S. tournament, but knows “it’ll hit home soon enough.”
“I’m going to miss the Classic and a lot of the people. There are a lot of great people there, but we’re starting a new era,” he said. “We will have our own version of the Classic and our own tour and own platform to promote from. It’s time to break out of the box. and think outside the box. This is America. We’re able to better ourselves and families and not feel bad about it. I’m sorry, but I feel like I’m doing the right thing.”
In Horton’s case, the popularity of MLF shows on TV coupled with the potential of the BPT was more than enough to convince him to shift gears.
“Just interacting with fans at boat shows, all they talk about is MLF,” Horton said. “It’s one thing when (MLF general manager) Jim Wilburn tells us we’re the highest-rated show on outdoor television. When fans say it, that resonates, so I feel I have a responsibility to my sponsors to take them along on that.”
Horton said his excitement level before an Elite Series event is not close to what it is prior to an MLF Cup. He hopes to get the same rush of energy at BPT tournaments.
“The biggest thing I have to look at is supporting my family,” he said. “My track record in (B.A.S.S.) tournaments shows I have not done well recently. I’ve had reasons for that. It’s been a difficult workplace for me. With MLF, I’ve had some success and when I go to an MLF event, the juices are flowing so hard, I can’t wait to make that first cast. At B.A.S.S., I feel like I’m in a work environment I’m not comfortable in. It’s like anyone else in their jobs – you’re answering to people no matter what, but you have to be comfortable doing it.”
Horton likes the fact that BPT competitors will have a say in how schedules are built and what entry fee/payout models are utilized, an aspect that he said was lacking at B.A.S.S.
“MLF has a lot of energy. If people could see what goes on in the boat yard outside our hotel at an event, it’s just energy maxed out,” Horton said. “With B.A.S.S., we’ve watched payouts go down and entry fees go up. We’ve told them we’re struggling and it’s not a good business scenario.”
For years, Horton said those pleas seemed to fall on deaf ears. Shortly after the BPT was announced, B.A.S.S. made sweeping alterations to the Elite Series entry fee/payout structure for 2019.
“It was like we turned in our two-week notice and suddenly the money was there,” he said. “We had been pleading for change for a long time and I’m not sure the fanbase realizes the struggles it’s been for a guy like Marty Robinson or myself. When you’re at the top of a sport, it shouldn’t be the struggle it’s been.
“With MLF, we have a seat at the table. Whether that means to not fish the Sabine River in June during the flood season or whatever else comes up. It comes down to the fans seeing us have fun in the best environments, which is going to make them want to get out and do it themselves.”