Our subject matter this week will come as no surprise to many: The movement of some top pros away from the Bass Pro Tour and back toward B.A.S.S. This is by no means a mass migration in terms of numbers (only about a half-dozen of 80 anglers), but the list includes some big names, leaving most supporters wondering just whatís going on internally.
Itís important to see it from the side of the fans. Just two years ago, we watched in awe as virtually every big name in bass fishing left the established tournament organizations in pursuit of a new life. We were told that the Bass Pro Tour would be different Ė a fishing tour run by fishermen, offering bigger payouts for little or no entry fees. The sky was the limit and, from the perspective of us admirers, it seemed as if that brotherhood of tour pros would never again set foot on a B.A.S.S. or FLW stage.
Of course, we all know what happened with FLW, as Major League Fishing absorbed the organization, making any fishing transitions much more acceptable. This offered a number of BPT pros the opportunity to compete in FLW events during the screwy, pandemic-influenced 2020 season.
However, it was just that move that got under the skin of a number of others.
In the previous weeks, Iíve had conversations with anglers on all sides of the recent ship-jumping situation. While I normally don't allow the ďanonymous" designation, here my sources must remain unnamed, as some are in sticky situations due to sponsorships, qualifications, peer pressure and the like. Truthfully, itís a bit sad, but thatís the state of advertising and professional bass fishing today. Here, then, is a condensed version of the general feel of those talks.
The strongest stories I heard opposing the direction of the Bass Pro Tour centered around the FLW Super Tournaments Ė or what will be called the Big 5 circuit in 2021. According to some sources, these events took the anglers a step back, rather than the previously promised move forward. The BPT pros simply became celebrated FLW anglers.
There's nothing "minor-league" about that level of competition. However, as nearly all the BPT pros will readily admit, there was the intention of a higher tier in the Bass Pro Tour business plan, and by filtering anglers back into FLW competition, that plan was not fulfilled. Their views, not mine.
The complaints also centered around entry fees. What we were all led to believe would be a new format, and whole new direction in professional fishing, appears to be pay-to-play as usual. Entry fees are coming due for the 2021 BPT season and theyíre far from cheap.
Finally, it seems a number of anglers are getting frustrated with all the changes occurring to the BPT plan. Remember, it was the fall of 2018 when anglers signed a three-year contract with the tour to get things up and running. And since that time, there have been a number of alterations to the original outline, now just two years in.
To be fair, some of these changes have been positive for the success of the game and have been openly accepted by the fans. Others were the product of the pandemic shutdowns Ė something no one could have seen coming.
Other anglers are convinced their best future prospects still lie with the BPT. A few gave the organization praise for opportunities they would ďnever be able to find anywhere else." Again, their words. But important words, nonetheless.
The Bass Pro Tour is providing the most bass fishing television coverage. And, by transforming the FLW Tour model into the Big 5 circuit, there are a number of options for the anglers. This, however, really only helps the household-name pros by providing a few high-stakes games to fill in the gaps. But itís an option not offered on the B.A.S.S. side, as Open payout structures make for a poor investment for many traveling pros.
Make no mistake, any movement by the anglers from one tour to another is strictly a business decision. At no time have I ever interviewed a pro and heard remarks like ďI like the five-fish formatĒ or ďIím friends with the anglers on that tourĒ or even ďI think (the tournament organization) is out to do whatís best for me.Ē
Nope. While the fans continue to think that way, thereís only one thing the vast majority of pros are concerned about: a successful, stable career.
Itís important to consider how difficult it is to make it as a bass pro. This is a career that 90 percent of America would never even consider if they knew the ins and outs. Itís one that requires tremendous sacrifice at every stage, leaving hopeful anglers feeling like itís them against the world for the majority of their careers. So donít think for one minute that the anglers are all that concerned about what you like to watch on TV.
And, although unity once seemed to be a big priority within the group, that too appears to be fading.
Itís tough to please everybody, thatís for sure. And I continue to give credit to the Bass Pro Tour for pulling off what I had assumed impossible, time and time again. But the strength-in-numbers principle is one that canít be rebuilt once it's tossed aside.
Perhaps it was celebrated too much to begin with.
(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.)