Like many anglers, fans, media and sponsors, itís my opinion that the recent announcement of the Bass Pro Tour is probably the most historic single event to ever happen to our sport. Although full details are not clear at the moment, the basic framework sets the stage for the ramifications that this power move by Major League Fishing possesses.
First of all, the basic premise of MLF has been around for many years, but never gained real traction until Boyd Duckett and Gary Klein formed the concept. Back in the 1990s, there were a couple of Bassmaster Classics I fished where anglers were trying to organize a boycott of the event in order to raise payouts and have some demands met. It never happened because some of the anglers feared sponsor losses by boycotting.
The Professional Anglers Association (PAA) was the next step, and it enjoyed a semi-successful, short-lived run, but never fell into the mainstream or developed significant momentum.
In both of these attempts, the goal was the same Ö to have an organization that would let the anglers have the control, make decisions regarding the tournaments, the rules, the payouts and the flow of sponsor dollars.
What the Bass Pro Tour looks like is still foggy, but the long quest professional anglers have been on to controlling their own destinies appears to have finally began to manifest physically in a real, sustainable way.
My phone has been ringing off the hook this past week, with angler friends from both the FLW Tour and the Bassmaster Elite Series voicing their (mostly angry) opinions. And despite the fact the MLF has come out with the stance that ďthis is a great thing for the growth of our sport," I can tell you from talking to the guys that not all share in that viewpoint or excitement.
For now, Iíll not focus on the potential sponsorship/fan interest losses that other tournament organizations may or may not suffer as a result of so many marquee anglers leaving to fish the Bass Pro Tour, but on the criteria for determining who is given the opportunity to fish it. That is the issue that has the professional angling community in an uproar.
Although not set in stone, the consensus of the rumor mill is that the majority of the anglers who received invites were Elite Series pros, with a few FLW anglers mixed in. Why is that?
And here lies the problem.
This is MLFís ball, and they have the right to do what they want in terms of selecting anglers for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But it was my hope that when the day came for an opportunity like this, that the selection process would have been well-defined, clear, transparent and fair Ö and it has not been.
There were not any qualification criteria to be selected as an MLF angler, or to compete on the Bass Pro Tour. It has never been advertised to the public or the angling community. I see this clandestine approach as unjust and unfair to so many anglers in this sport who helped grow it to where it is today.
For example, nothing personal against any of the Bass Pro Tour competitors, but how can the Bass Pro Tour justify inviting some little-known Elite Series pros and deny invitations to such legendary guns like David Dudley, Andy Morgan and Bryan Thrift? To not give the icons of our sport the opportunity to compete in this new tour in favor of ones who have only been competing at the tour level for a year or two is simply not right.
I realize there are other factors that were probably considered Ė social media following, demographic appeal, connections, etc. The fail in this approach is the fact that every single angler on tour, regardless of how polished they are, how many Facebook fans they have or who they know, has a personality and abilities uniquely their own. And with that comes a fan base. Regardless of whether that angler wears a flat-brimmed hat or a gray beard.
I knew this day would come, and it was my hope that when it did, each angler on the FLW Tour and the Bassmaster Elites would have had the opportunity to sit down in front of the MLF management, be interviewed to be considered a competitor, and present a performance/promotional application.
Upon completing the selection process, MLF would make it transparent as to why each angler earned a spot, and make that reason public knowledge. This increases legitimacy and angler/fan respect for the Tour.
In my opinion, it should have gone down like this: Bass Pro Tour competitors were selected on a system that factored in all current FLW Tour and Bassmaster Elite anglers who had the most combined FLW Cup/Bassmaster Classic qualifications, wins, top-10s and all-time winnings, plus social media following. Nobody could argue with anyone who was selected under these requirements.
That would form the initial field. The bottom 10 anglers on the Bass Pro Tour each year would lose their spots and be replaced through an MLF qualification system to allow newer anglers to have an opportunity.
Although I donít see any non-MLF pros or competing tournament organizations directly benefitting from any MLF exposure, I do see this raising awareness for our sport. And in that awareness, it would be my main hope that increased public education of conservation and environmental issues surrounding our sport are brought to light through the proposed epic TV exposure of the Bass Pro Tour.
To those anglers out there who may be bitter and feel like they have been left out in the cold, I say this: The opportunities are there, and our sport is big enough for three tours. The potential for non-endemic sponsorships are endless. Each of you have a personality and promotional ability that no other pro can duplicate. Itís uniquely your own, and you all have a demographic fan base. Use that to your advantage.
True pro anglers compete because it makes them feel alive, and part of you would die if you couldnít compete. That is why so many pros are bitter about MLF Ė they want to compete, not spectate from the sidelines.
Best of luck to MLF. I know many of the people behind this organization and can tell you they are good, decent men.
Itís impossible to be all things to all people. Thanks for the change, MLF, because change is good, even if that change is painful for some.