The formation of the Bass Pro Tour brought monumental changes to professional bass fishing. As the sport’s biggest players transitioned, and new formats were adapted, we all waited to see how things would shake out.
Like many involved in the industry, I was interested to see the reactions of the fans, sponsors – even host communities – to the new tour. But more than anything, I couldn’t wait to learn the outcome of the events themselves.
You see, for umpteen years now, there’s been rumors about what makes the best anglers in pro fishing so successful, often crediting inside information and previous history as their secrets. The BPT set out to eliminate that once and for all. In fact, I think the group’s primary purpose is to even the playing field, but that’s a subject for another day.
In any case, the BPT made it apparent that it was planning to silence the critics with this new approach. Would such a move really make all things equal? Would we witness a tour where anything’s possible and anyone could win? Would the top performers be forced to adapt?
Since the roster was first announced, I felt Andy Morgan would play the perfect guinea pig. For years, I’d felt Morgan was one of the best professional anglers alive – sharing a boat only with names like VanDam and Thrift – yet his Major League Fishing experience was zero going into 2019. As a pure shallow-water specialist and master of the five-fish game, I wondered if he’d stumble.
Obviously not, as Morgan’s recent string of paychecks, capped by a $100,000 winner’s edition, clearly proves.
“I said it going in,” Morgan confirmed, “I didn’t think this tour would be dominated (by a few players), just because there is so much unknown.” Morgan mentioned Edwin Evers and Jeff Sprague as two competitors who seem to be excelling better than many, but also noted several top-tier anglers who are also struggling.
As the season began, Morgan felt a bit of insecurity himself.
“I wondered, would I get enough bites? Could I fish shallow and still compete? I had no idea,” he claimed.
Morgan’s initial MLF event in Florida was a flop. “But Florida was no big surprise,” Morgan reckoned, adding that fishing in the Sunshine State has always been feast or famine for him.
He felt a little better after scratching out a check at BPT Stage Two at Lake Conroe, but really got the wheels spinning at the tour’s third stop.
“When I got to Raleigh and we fished a flooded lake Jordan,it was right up my alley,” Morgan confirmed. “It was flipping and throwing a spinnerbait; using big baits and fishing for big fish.”
AKA fishing like Andy Morgan.
Chickamauga seemed to further prove Morgan needs no modification to his strategy, but he was quick to point out a noticeable difference when competing in the MLF format. “The big thing is practice. It’s shorter. And there’s much more unknown going into the first day of competition.”
Morgan concluded that, with abbreviated practice periods, he’s unable to cover as much water and find out what’s going on all around the lake.
It would seem that the competition format would even the score – especially with inclusion of the ScoreTracker updates – but Morgan disagrees. “Even after day 1, you don’t know what you used to (in other formats) because there’s no information. You can’t get any info from other competitors.”
Apparently, this plays more into the outcome of traditional tournaments than what many of us may have realized. And, when it comes to playing by the rules, Morgan is quick to point out that there’s no free pass in MLF.
“That polygraph is for real,” he commented, referring to the new league’s willingness to hook up the machine. “By the end of the season, everyone on MLF will have gotten polygraphed. And it’s like 2 1/2 hours.”
The benefit? “It keeps it pure and lets us compete,” Morgan concluded. “People are interested in the process as much as the result.”
What a brilliant comment; Morgan’s absolutely right. For a while now, I’ve pondered how the completion of MLF – and the real-life scenario of the tournament unfolding before our eyes – is truly it’s draw.
In any case, Andy seems to be well on his way – big surprise. And he’s received more fanfare than ever before. “By the time I got to the trailer (after winning), I already had 225 texts” he mentioned.
But success doesn’t always come easy, or with a guarantee. “You know, we were all nervous about it. Every one of us quit a good job to hope it worked out,” Morgan mentioned.
“And it’s brought a lot of excitement to a lot of veterans. We were fishing for less money now than we were 10 years ago, with higher (costs). Something had to change, and this is what changed.”
For the better, in Morgan’s case. But I wonder about the anglers who have seen the other side of the equation. Last I checked, there were still a handful that hadn’t received a single tournament paycheck this year, despite traversing much of the country. A few of those were at the height of their careers before leaving their former employer.
Do they feel the same as Andy? That’s something we’ll try to find out.
(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.)