As we all know, it’s REDCREST week. After a few minor changes, including calendar and location adjustments (twice), the crew at MLF finally got their year-end championship off the ground. I’ve got to hand it to them. Again, in spite of incredible unforeseen difficulty, MLF is pulling it off.
Day 1 saw Bryan Thrift hand the rest of the competitors their lunch. No surprise to me. While Thrift isn’t always a sure bet to win, he’s a dang strong one when a bunch of money is on the line. Remember, it was Thrift who racked up more Top-10s in the FLW Championship event than anyone, all in the course of a decade.
Day 2 found me too busy to watch the competition. Following the fishing, I decided to check the leaderboard; see if Browning or Ott had a chance to make up any ground. I was bummed to learn of their poor performances.
Then it hit me: ScoreTracker.
The guys near the top laid off. Obviously. With REDCREST featuring a Top-20 cut after two days, based on cumulative weight, and the action continuing on Lake Eufaula all week, there was no need for those in the know to sore-mouth more fish. Those same bass might be worth a bunch of money later in the week.
I get it. But that got me thinking.
In a “normal” bass tournament, there’s no backing down. But when MLF began the Bass Pro Tour, it incorporated a series of mini-tournaments wrapped in throughout the week. Things started and re-started based on qualifications, cuts and knockouts.
In addition, this week saw no incentive for an angler to “win” the elimination round of competition, as advancement to the finals was not offered, as in regular-season events. So, even though Thrift “won”, it didn’t do him much good.
The top players laid off. Which, of course, brings up the greatest question ever posed during the inception of new formats in our sport.
Will the best fisherman win?
By that, I mean, will the best tournament angler on Lake Eufaula this week walk away with the winner’s trophy, or will he lose it because he played the game wrong?
Thinking back to last season on the BPT, I can remember only one time when an angler came charging out of the gate, took the lead, and never looked back. Here, I’m remembering the superhuman feat when Justin Lucas caught more tonnage than a commercial trawler at Sturgeon Bay. Other than that, the leaders after the first round never won the game.
I wonder why that is?
Mark Daniels Jr. was a perfect case in point. At Stage Three on Lake Fork, Daniels performed a Texas beat-down on the rest of the crew, wresting over 80 pounds of bass from stained, shallow water. Nothing, it seemed, could stand in his way. Daniels even wrangled a fish from around a flooded birdhouse; it was a real man-handling.
Yet, despite his auto-advance for winning the elimination round, Daniels ended the event a disappointing 3rd behind winner Ott DeFoe. Had the event been fished in a traditional format, I find it hard to believe anyone could have beaten MDJ.
But that’s not how the MLF game is played, and everyone knows it going in.
But, I wonder, does the format lend itself to a competitor who knows how to hold ‘em? Certainly, it rewards a big gamble by a competitor. To wait until the fleeting hours of competition and really pour it on. Maybe, even, in the case of an event that fishes the same waters from start to finish, to save a secret spot.
Personally, I love it. In the future, I think we’ll see more competitors use the alternative format of MLF competition to their advantage. We may also see, however, that anglers with a little know-how of the venues save something for the end. That could be dangerous.
One incredible asset to the MLF system is the fast-paced feel and no information clutter. Fans watch as their heroes of bass gobble up lakes instantly, processing nature’s clues in a matter of seconds, their brains spitting out a pattern for success in no time. It would take away from the game if past history entered the equation.
No one’s to blame, here. It’s amazing REDCREST is even getting fished, and nearly every competitor has some experience on tournament-rich Eufaula. And right now, one of the best in the game is taking matters into his own hands. Sweet.
But what if the best doesn’t win? What if an early round leader takes it to the field for several days, then loses in the end? Does it mean as much if a competitor hops on a single-day pattern when it matters most, or holds back a secret he’s known about for years? Does such really decide who was the best fisherman for the week?
Now, this has been a debate for decades, really, dating back to when FLW created tournaments where weights were zeroed after place cuts. Then, it was possible to simply beat as few as nine other anglers on one day of competition and walk away with a fortune. The winners never complained. The losers always did.
And, as a fan, I never had a take. One method is more just, the other more dramatic.
This week, we may see another example. Or perhaps Thrift will just beat everyone to oblivion. Either way, I’ll be glued to the screen.
(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.)