As with any industry, change is inevitable. The fishing industry is no different. With that change comes uncertainty and worry, especially for the players in the game. But those players have been struggling from the beginning, except for a select few at the top. Letís face the facts and at least agree on one thing: If you're going into high school or coming out of college and want to seriously consider professional bass fishing as your career, itís an unrealistic fantasy.
The money just isnít there. Half of the guys on both tours are barely making ends meet, not to mention the number of anglers who have bankrupted themselves and their families trying to follow their dream. That eliminates some great young anglers who will never have a realistic chance to test their true ability in the sport of their passion. Itís one of the hardest career choices you could ever pick for yourself. But because most of us in this industry are so passionate about this sport, a few of us are still willing to give it a try.
The sport of bass fishing hasnít changed much in over four decades. Sure, itís been tweaked from time to time, but the same basic format that the founder of tournament bass fishing, Ray Scott, so brilliantly came up with back in the 1960s really hasnít changed. B.A.S.S. has been the gold standard for the top level of our sport for years.
FLW coming on the scene was the best thing to ever happen for the anglers at the time. Finally, there was competition for the anglers and payouts for tournament winnings went up exponentially. But the format never changed. They were still fishing for their own money to a great degree. The pie never grew. Theyíve simply been trying to get a bigger slice of that pie. But the pie, for all intents and purposes, hasnít changed in eons.
Because of that, the money coming into the sport has changed very little and we all know where the money comes from in any sport. Advertising. Period. Any sport, anywhere, every time, whether itís sponsorships for the individual anglers and trails or advertising dollars for all of the vast media platforms. TV is still king as of today, but that too is changing rapidly. The bottom line is that the number of eyeballs watching, no matter which vehicle is used to reach the viewers, hasnít grown to any extent in years.
Finally, a group of individuals came along with a different vision. A big vision. One from the anglers' prospective. A dream of raising the bar for all professional anglers. Not just another group from corporate America trying to make a buck, but actual fishermen. Also, in that angler group are incredibly talented businessmen who also happen to have that same absolute passion for the sport itself.
The intent of Major League Fishing from the very beginning was to grow the sport of professional bass fishing. I know, that phrase has been overused many times in the past, but thatís truly their intention. That mission has never changed and never will change.
At no time in the history of the sport has there ever been a group of anglers to put as much time, effort, and sacrifice into realizing this dream. The public may never know half of that effort. From the early tournaments they fished and footed all of the expenses themselves for no payouts at all, to the endless late nights trying to fine-tune every detail of the format.
But in the end, they built a better mousetrap Ė Major League Fishing. A product that shows the emotion of the sport like weíve never seen before. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat ... like every other great sport.
Now to take this product to that elusive next level, which professional bass fishing trails have struggled with since the beginning of time, takes great partners with that same vision. Thatís exactly what has taken place.
On one side you have Outdoor Sportsman Group, which is the parent company of the Outdoor Channel. Itís a group of media geniuses that excel in marketing and are second to none in that field. Their owner is an avid outdoorsman and conservationist with the same enthusiasm and vision.
On the other side are the anglers themselves and with the blessing of Bass Pro Shops owner Johnny Morris, who may be the nationís foremost visionary on conservation and nature. Itís a great marriage.
With this marriage comes the ability to finally put tournament fishing on the map Ė truly bring it to levels that most in this industry never thought possible. The thought of airing tournament fishing on major networks, in prime time, I might add, was just a pipe dream. Itís now turning into a reality.
With that exposure comes much-needed and long overdue money. Real money. Angler money. With the anglers themselves running their own tour, there is no middleman. Theyíre it. Itís a brilliant business model created by the anglers, for the anglers at all levels, that will be the gold standard for the next 40 years.
The Bass Pro Tour is a select group of 80 fishermen striving to bring that dream to fruition. What a great opportunity to raise the bar for all professional fishermen to heights only dreamed of just a few years ago.
It also puts pressure on the other two tours. Will they step up and finally share a larger percentage of their profits with the anglers so theyíre able to make a viable living? I think weíre already seeing that and it should continue for decades to come.
As time goes on, it will assure the absolute best anglers in the world will be competing on the biggest stage in the world with some long overdue exposure. What a great time to be a professional angler and spectator alike.
Errol Duckett occasionally writes editorials for several publications. He is also the owner of Duckett Tank Leasing, a tank trailer leasing company that he and his brother Boyd Duckett opened in 2001. As a weekend tournament angler, he is never off the water too long, which helps satisfy his passion for fishing.