After a dull early season full of cancelations and delays, pro bass fishing rebounded with a fury this month. Both the Bassmaster and MLFLW crews took it to the North with stellar events on the Great Lakes, culminating in our current daytime drama at Sturgeon Bay, where FLW is hosting its TITLE event.
This tournament, in particular, interests me the most. Here, we have FLW’s everyday pros competing using the MLF format, something that wasn’t in play at all during their regular season.
Initially, that bothered me. In terms of a fair test of the best, I thought it would be best to stick to one set of rules and one method of play for the entire season. I mean, after all, no other major sport changes it up in the postseason, right? Would it be fair if the outcome of the World Series was determined by a home run derby, or the NBA finals by a dunk contest?
Okay, maybe that’s going a little too far, but you get the point. So naturally, when I tuned in to the TITLE event this week, I was already holding a grudge. But then, after watching just a few minutes of the broadcast, my entire outlooked changed.
There was a noticeably higher production value of the online show. The commentators were polished. Coverage was clean and fast-paced; the ever-changing leaderboard exciting. In short, the show was the best I’ve seen from FLW in years.
Such, then, brought up a debate in my head. Which is more important: Remaining true to the plan for pure competition, or creating the best media product? I’m not sure.
To investigate further, let’s back up a bit. This week, we’re seeing a format being employed that almost none of the competitors have any experience with, other than watching it as fans themselves. Here, every scorable fish counts, limits mean nothing, run times aren’t a factor and weights are zeroed after cut days.
Take into account that the best anglers on the FLW Pro Circuit spend their season attempting not to catch fish in practice, and managing their fish for multiple days of competition. They use nets throughout the year and fish amongst considerably more anglers.
In terms of strategy, the differences between the MLF and FLW formats are like night and day.
Thinking more in-depth, the winner of a championship event at Sturgeon Bay, under the traditional FLW format, would likely not be the competitor who catches the most fish. It would be the guy who catches 5-pounders.
This week, however, the winner will be the competitor who runs across the biggest school regardless of fish size, or keys in on a way to get more bass to bite. Apples and oranges.
So I ask, is that fair? Is that a legitimate way to determine the TITLE champion of a circuit that utilizes none of this competitive approach throughout the year?
Now, let’s look at the other side. It’s become apparent that, with the purchase and reformatting of FLW, MLF is interested in using the FLW Pro Circuit as a feeder tour for its top level. Initially, it was announced that anglers from FLW will be able to qualify for the Bass Pro Tour (a division of MLF), and MLF would control much of the media being presented for FLW, as is the case this week.
That, as promised, is providing FLW Pro Circuit anglers with a monumental uptick in exposure across numerous channels. As mentioned, the on-air product is noticeably better, and many FLW pros will find themselves stars at the conclusion of the Sturgeon Bay event. In short, it’s a big win.
Also, successful FLW pros will gain experience utilizing the MLF format, thus increasing their ability to do well once they “graduate."
And I think the anglers enjoy the change, for the most part. I spoke with a few and none had any apprehension of fishing with the new rules; each was simply excited to get a crack at a couple hundred grand. However, when the scales settle and a champion is crowned, I wonder if their sentiments might change. Following the initial rounds of competition, I was surprised to see a few north country regulars and smallmouth aces at the bottom of the standings. I wonder what they’re thinking now.
Because, you see, experience and talent means nothing, if you’re the best at the old game and not the new. This week, we’ll have a champ, no doubt.
But I’m just not quite sure what we’ll prove.
(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.)