Late last week, we learned of Major League Fishing’s acquisition of FLW, easily the largest organizational change in the history of our sport. This week, additional details were reported by MLF front-man Boyd Duckett, in a fast-paced edition of Bass Talk Live, broadcast by BassZone.com
Duckett did a magnificent job of remaining transparent and upbeat about the merger, facing a few tough questions along the way. I have to say, it’s refreshing to hear a guy actually answer a question rather than remaining vague and "taking the 5th," as is so common with the rule-makers of professional fishing.
In any case, this guy’s on his game, for sure. Throughout the lengthy interview, it appeared Duckett never even consulted notes – he certainly didn’t dial up his PR department – and, while I may have been previously critical of MLF’s direction, it seems to be working. Most of what they’ve promised has come true so far.
While the conversation included a staggering number of bullet points, we’ll start with a few notables.
The FLW Tour, as we know, will be known as the FLW Pro Circuit and will be a feeder system for the Bass Pro Tour. Duckett made it clear that the Pro Circuit will remain a leading tour-level platform, in direct competition with the Bassmaster Elite Series for participants and sponsors. To drive home the point, Duckett added that, in such competition, “everybody doesn’t get to win.”
The BPT, then, will apparently be viewed by MLF as a level unto itself – a peak to the pro fishing pyramid, if you will. Whether the fans and sponsors agree is yet to be seen. However, another key variable to the MLF plan may discreetly help: No direct placement of high-profile FLW pros.
According to Duckett, there are no plans to offer any more “free passes” to top level FLW pros, as was the case when the BPT was formed. If a competitor is going to make his way to the BPT, he will need to do so based on future performance on the FLW Pro Circuit, whether his name be Scott Martin or Joe Schmoe. That should ruffle a few feathers.
In any case, by holding steady to such a plan, MLF would further illustrate its commitment to those who helped start the BPT, as well as drive home the point that the BPT is truly in a class by itself. That is, if it holds steady.
Another piece of the puzzle that may draw dismay is the elimination of the 2020 FLW Cup, and with it, the dreams and efforts of many 2019 competitors – specifically those poised to qualify from the FLW (Costa) Series. Many of those working-class anglers have held to a year-long goal of qualification, only to see their hard work account for nothing in the long run.
“This is a reset,” Duckett offered. And with such, everyone can’t be accounted for, I guess.
Finally, Duckett was vividly clear about his intentions to allow the anglers a final say in most everything. “We are a tournament organization and intend to provide what our customers want,” he stated near the end of the interview.
I wonder if that’s true in entirety. You see, while there are a number of facets of the MLF plan that could raise a curious eyebrow, there’s one that repeatedly fights back skepticism: elimination of the five-fish limit. While I’m certainly on the outside looking in, I wonder how many of the anglers truly favor this format. Because it’s becoming apparent that most of the current FLW pros do not, and they’re about to be told how to conduct business.
The newest format will be a blend, offering traditional fish-fish limit competition to begin the tournament, followed by the MLF format for the final rounds.
First off, such will completely alter the event itself and likely change the outcome all together. It may also lend itself to interesting strategy.
But more importantly, such formatting comes across as a strong-arm move to make everyone comply with the idea that all the fans of fishing want are endless fish catches. Non-stop, one-after-another fish catches, regardless of size.
Sure, this makes exciting programing, at first. And it also lends itself to background viewing – like watching the early stages of a NASCAR race or the first three quarters of an NBA game; witnessing the story unfolding toward the final chapter, when we actually pay attention.
But, for hardcore fans, endless small-fish catches are not that appealing. And they don’t seem to be catching on.
Without question, the biggest criticism of the MLF format – especially by hardcore bass fishermen – is the large number of small-fish catches. Most avid anglers, it seems, don’t believe catching dinkers is all that hard – or very entertaining to watch.
Why, then, is such a format being included in FLW Pro Circuit competition, and who is in favor of it? As MLF continues to be portrayed as an angler-run circuit, I wonder, were the current FLW pros consulted when making this decision, or just the television producers?
Dozens of additional topics cross my mind – this will make for some great material, no doubt. And, as things unfold, Duckett will continue to be front and center to both surprise us and challenge our thoughts along the way.
(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.)