Big news in the tournament world came this week with the announcement of the new MLF World Championship, as well as a network deal with CBS Sports. I think we all saw this coming. MLF continues to carve out a place in competitive bass fishing, and its associated television format is getting strong reviews.
As a hardcore fan of pro bass, I have mixed emotions on MLF being poised to replace our known competitive model. While I canít wait for each new episode, I wonder, are the winners truly the best anglers on the lake?
A case in point: on many fisheries, itís quite easy to catch loads of smaller, keeper bass, but far more difficult to catch fish that win conventional tournaments. My previous home waters of Lake St. Clair are a shining example, where anglers can often encounter never-ending schools of fish weighing 2 pounds apiece, catching them until it grows tiring. The same can be said of many Southern fisheries, where tournament anglers interested in earning a paycheck often bypass the dinks.
However, in the MLF format, pursuing the easy fish can pay big dividends. In fact, Iíd wager that, if such an event came to the aforementioned St. Clair, the winner would never weigh a 4-pound bass.
Does that make any difference? Does the ability to catch vast numbers of bank-runners equate to an overall ability as a bass fisherman, especially a tournament bass fisherman? Iím not sure.
Since the beginning of time, tournaments have been formatted to allow competitors a dedicated creel limit. In the early days, that number was much higher than it is in todayís conventional events Ė often 10 fish. Back then, successful competitors used methods much like we see in Major League Fishing; concentrating on mediocre-sized fish to ensure a limit each day of competition.
As the sport progressed toward stricter creels and lower limits, competitors found that it was necessary to catch larger fish to win. In fact, the great Rick Clunn has often stated that he needed to transform his fishing methods throughout time to remain competitive, employing methods better suited for larger bass.
However, now, with the MLF format, weíre seeing a complete 180. Points and places are awarded for every scoreable bass, and the winners usually catch large numbers of small fish. Last seasonís event in Florida was a good representation, as the highest-finishing contestants hooked few decent-sized fish, despite the tournament being held on a chain of lunker ponds.
Does such competition make for good television? Sure, to some degree. But I, undoubtedly like many fans, yearn for a time when my heroes targeted big fish with big-fish methods, rather than running through a series of canals with a shaky-head.
This format is changing tournament bass fishing as we know it. Without question, the MLF methods are far better for the fishery. Bass are caught, weighed, and immediately released. Many of you will recognize my displeasure with tournaments hauling fish long distances to central weigh-in locations, and MLF has immediately ended that.
But I canít help but feel like the winner isnít necessarily the guy who best figured out the fish. I wonder if Iím alone in sensing the asterisk.
In any case, MLF is catching on, big-time. Not long ago, I predicted that this tournament circuit would soon surpass both B.A.S.S. and FLW in fan base and television audience. Things seem to be right on track.
In addition, the MLF format is slowly spreading to grass-roots events across the country, where bass clubs are adopting the weigh-and-immediate-release philosophy. Communication methods are easier, allowing real-time scoring with limited technology. Iím learning expansion of such is on the horizon, both in this format and others, but thatís another story for another day.
Overall, I love MLF. The associated television show cycles up and down Ė it seems to be turning into another form of a corporate dog-and-pony act where competitors are being required to be salesmen Ė but the entertainment value is still strong. And, with the announcement of the new championship and associated network deal, MLF is well on its way to taking over the tournament world.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)