Another round of changes has been announced for the Bass Pro Tour, leaving many competitors and fans frustrated. It seems the frequency of these format shifts is getting tiring.
I dispute those claims. The changes are exactly what the league needs. Though, they come with baggage.
Let’s back up. The most notable change involved the BPT’s return to an all-you-can-catch format (instead of the traditional five-fish limit, which was perviously adopted for just one season.)
Also of note was a proposed reduced field size from 80 to 50 anglers, as well as shorter overall events.
To me, the first change is a no-brainer. The goal of the BPT since its inception in 2019 was engagement of the non-traditional bass fishing fan. Building off the momentum created by Major League Fishing’s initial circuits, the concept brought timed competition, penalties and last-minute fishing heroics to the masses. At its release, MLF routinely touted this format for being responsible for holding the top spot on the Outdoor Channel, season after season. An integral part of that concept was every scorable bass counting toward a total. This was easy to see.
Somehow, though, the BPT seemed to lose sight of its intended goal to increase interest among casual anglers or the non-fishing public. Almost immediately, the league’s format was met with criticism from traditional bass fishing fans. Soon afterward, the format was changed to match the demands of those fans, rather than sticking to the plan.
I immediately recognized that as a mistake, yet fell in the minority of bass fishing pundits. As a fan, I loved – and still love – catch-all-you-can. It’s simply more exciting than watching a five-fish limit event. Criticism from the hardcore crowd – that it changes the game, or determines a winner outside of the regular routine – are invalid, because it’s simply a different game.
It’s important to remember that bass fishing tournaments have evolved through time and changed regularly. It may be wise to remember that the initial events featured huge creel limits – up to 15 fish, sometimes. Those were soon lowered. Some events started weights over each competition day. Those were modified. There were events that fished one venue for the qualifier and a totally different lake for the finals. Personally, I found that quite intriguing.
There were tournaments that included boat racing as a major component. There were six-man team events, pro-am events, even pro-pro draw circuits where the boat operator was determined by a coin flip. Tournament bass fishing has seen lots of changes.
It’s paramount to keep one thing in mind, and I give the BPT credit for this more than anything else: Since the inception of the league, the operators have openly admitted there would be flexibility and change. In my mind, the most recent changes simply place the league back on its intended path.
Unfortunately for some, this includes a reduction in field size. While it’s easy to see both sides of this issue, much of the argument for reducing the field to 50 comes back to the closed-door conversations. If an angler is routinely placing below that mark, perhaps he shouldn’t be eligible to compete. Easy for me to say, I know. I’m not fishing against guys like Dakota Ebare every day.
But the concept of field reduction also resonates, really, with viewership. Since the beginning, the BPT has suffered from formatting challenges, regular season events vs. Cups, who’s qualifying where, and a field that’s tough to follow from beginning to end. Size reduction will help that.
However, I can’t ignore one major argument against the cut. Just like the other early announcements, since the inception, the BPT has touted itself as a league by the fishermen, for the fishermen. Initially, remember, there were no entry fees, and payout was dispersed to fewer anglers. With an entry fee adoption a few years later, more anglers got paid, all through the ranks. The concept, I believe, was to ensure everyone on the circuit a chance to make a living, albeit a tight one for many.
Beginning in 2025, 30 fewer anglers will be able to make that claim.
Finally, consider shorter events on the horizon. This will help cut costs for both the anglers and the tournament trail, as well as again making the tournaments easier to follow. I find it hard to tune in every day when a tournament lasts a week.
Condensed scheduling will also allow competitors a chance to fish more events outside of the standard BPT. For some, that may mean inclusion in the Team Series. For others, possibly the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals; maybe the B.A.S.S. Opens.
That all sounds good from here. But I wonder, should that be necessary for 50 of the sport's best?
In 2018, Major League Fishing announced the formation of the Bass Pro Tour, a new concept in competitive fishing designed to bring bass tournaments into the households of millions, and keep any sports fan engaged. Since then, they’ve accomplished much of that goal. Yet, while the newest changes strongly place the league back on its intended path, I wonder how the fall-out is being considered.
Thirty of the sport’s biggest names are wondering the same.
(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.)