I want to dive a little deeper into the recent format change adopted by MLF for the Bass Pro Tour, taking the majority of events from a “catch-all-you-can” standard to the more common five-fish limit. As regular readers, you’ll immediately recognize my disappointment in the shift. A vocal fan of the BPT, I have to admit I think this takes the previous step forward, backward.

I like to learn all sides. I find it necessary to offer readers an uncensored look into pro bass developments, whether I agree with them or not. In the process, I often dispel the myths created by backroom chatter.

Such was the case with this one. Anglers apparently dialogued amongst themselves, bringing the idea of a five-fish format before MLF officials. Once the subject gained momentum, the format change was proposed. Anglers were sent an e-mail to cast their votes.

Sixty-eight percent (as reported directly to me by MLF officials), voted to change the BPT scoring process and adopt a five-fish limit.

It’s important to point out that, since the Tour’s inception, the BPT has maintained an angler-majority policy, allowing the fishermen to have the final say for many rule adoptions and Tour practices. Such was the goal in the first place. Take note that the principle applied again here.

It’s also important to recognize some of the publicized reasons for the change. We’ve heard everything from the anglers, some being more comfortable with a five-fish policy and others claiming the change will make competition tighter. I’m not sure I buy any of that.

Let’s think back. Just glancing at results from the FLW Tour, prior to the creation of MLF, I recognize a pattern. Here, I’m looking through a decade or so of AOY standings. Notice the names I read. Morgan, Thrift, Dudley, Martin, Ehrler, Rose. Over and over. My gosh, the repetition is unbelievable.

Therefore, I can’t help but ask: How are five-fish limit events more competitive? If anything, we’ve seen a more diversified group of top performers recently than we did in the past. It’s simple, unbiased accounting of results.

Others claim (often off the record) that the modern format benefits a certain angler or two, giving them an unfair advantage. Again, facts argue this. One simply has to review the career of Jacob Wheeler. He won in the five-fish days, including Elite events and the Forrest Wood Cup, he won in all-you-can-catch events with back-to-back AOYs, and he’ll continue to win in the immediate future.

So let’s look further. I’ve heard the argument that a five-fish format is more entertaining. Fans get tired of the dink-fest. I agree! In fact, I was a very vocal critic of the endless 12-inchers that dominated early BPT competition. But, there again, the Tour quickly took that into consideration and adapted. Higher minimums were set based on each event and fishery, leading to more competitive tournaments.

Besides, it doesn’t take huge catch numbers to do well in MLF events. It never has.

Here, again, let’s study the statistics. I went to the liberty of calculating how many fish, on average, an eighth-place angler caught in BPT competition throughout 2022. This included all seven stages, as well as Heavy Hitters and REDCREST. It may surprise many to learn how few fish (in numbers, not weight) pushed a competitor to the finals. For Group A anglers, nine fish did it in the opening round. Group B far outfished the others, where it took 15. But – and here’s the real showstopper – to make the Championship Round, meaning a Top-8 finish in the Knockout Round and, essentially, beating 70 of the 80 competitors, an angler only had to average eight fish.

Not 40, or 200 pounds, or any of that nonsense. Eight bass. And that average includes the overwhelming influence of smallmouth tournaments in the North.

Finally, we need to address the fan influence. Again, reporting from polling, MLF determined that a majority of fans wanted to see the BPT change to a more traditional format. Additional comments I heard from both officials and anglers is that, by doing so, we have a better way to measure true tournament performance.

One angler summed it up well. “It’s like a poker game with a bunch of wild cards”, he said of the catch-all format. Eventually, the integrity of the game is taken away, and much of the skill level associated, when everyone gets five of a kind. In addition, it makes it difficult to gauge the achievements of a competitor, especially when measured across the board.

In some ways, I can go along with that. I’m reminded of the new LIV golf tour, where formats are changed that question a player’s longevity and athleticism, and how they affect multi-day play.

But, really, tournament bass fishing isn’t much like wild-card poker. Either that, or guys like Wheeler, Lee and DeFoe are probably really lucky at cards. Again, proof is in the performance, and the same performers are continually near the top.

And, from a fan perspective, I can’t help but feel the polling results are skewed. Those of us visiting the websites of pro tournament organizations, voting on changes, or voicing our opinions in feedback sections; we’re the junkies. We’re the group that has always been fans of pro-bass fishing and always will be. We spend the big bucks, drive the boats and compete on our own. But we’re a fairly small group.

We’re not the majority in fishing. And, if the goal is to appeal to the broader base of anglers in America, I’d argue that fish catches are as important as anything in terms of viewership. Remember, most people go fishing to catch fish, not win trophies.

In the end, the BPT found it necessary to play by its own rules, allowing the anglers the freedom to choose their own destiny. Such was one major reason for creation of the Tour; doing things differently.

But I wonder if a bit of that wasn’t already forgotten.

(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.)