The competitive bass fishing world was rocked earlier this week as Tulsa-based Major League Fishing (MLF) announced the creation of the Bass Pro Tour, an eight-event, 80-angler circuit for 2019 that will reportedly feature a season ending championship event and heightened payouts to anglers.
All of this is made possible thanks to Bass Pro Shops (BPS) and Outdoor Sportsman Group (OSG), which will both sponsor and support the new tournament organization going forward.
Before going any further, in the interest of full disclosure, I suppose that I need to mention that I work for Outdoor Sportsman Group and that I covered every Major League Fishing event from its inception at Lake Amistad in the fall of 2011 until the spring of 2017.
In my current work, I’m not privy to any more information about all of this than anyone else is, so the announcement caught me by surprise although rumors have circulated about all of this for months.
With BassFan.com reporting that the first wave of invitations have gone out to the 80-anglers selected by MLF, the organization founded by angling icons Boyd Duckett of Guntersville, Ala. and Gary Klein of Mingus, Texas, is reaching for new heights.
Since its founding, the MLF organization has enjoyed tremendous fan support, stellar TV ratings, and a sense that the new and innovative tournament format is changing a professional angling game that has existed for more than 50 years now.
At the heart of the MLF format is placing anglers on bodies of water with no prior information gleaned prior to an event. Add to that up-to-date real-time scoring of every legal fish on the organization’s SCORETRACKER LIVE leaderboard and anglers are always aware of their current standing against the field.
With every fish quickly weighed and carefully released (the group has a boat official in every rig and penalizes anglers who fail to adhere to rules designed to protect fish) the conservation of valuable largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass in pressured fisheries is better ensured.
A top-rated program on Outdoor Channel for the past several years, MLF has used its format and conservation minded practices to push itself to the forefront of the professional angling landscape thanks to its Summit Cup and Challenge Cup events.
Add in the GEICO Select feeder events along with the organization’s more recent creation of a World Championship derby and MLF’s angling footprint has continued to expand.
In addition to a host of enthusiastic sponsors, part of that growth has come thanks to the generous and continued support of Johnny Morris, the founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, and the man for whom the MLF World Championship trophy has been named.
“Bass Pro Shops has proudly supported MLF from its inception because we believed in its mission to elevate the sport of fishing,” said Morris in a news release. “Today, we’re very excited to take the next step and help showcase this great sport to every household in America.
“We truly believe that this partnership will create many positive and significant new opportunities for kids and families, professional anglers and the sport itself. Equally important to us is leveraging this popular platform to showcase the importance of conservation and promote responsible fishing practices.”
If Morris and Bass Pro Shops are enthusiastic sponsors of the new MLF Bass Pro Tour, officials with Denver-based OSG are equally excited about what the future has in store for professional bass fishing.
“MLF has delivered on its promised vision every step of the way since Day One,” said Matt Hutchings, executive vice president and chief operating officer of OSG, in the news release.
“MLF has made fishing an even more popular spectator sport through televised events on Outdoor Channel and other networks, as well as Outdoor Sportsman Group’s diverse media platforms in publishing and online. The MLF model is a proven success and we are excited to continue the journey with all of our partners towards future prosperity.”
For Klein, a two-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year, and Duckett, the 2007 Bassmaster Classic champion and the owner of Duckett Fishing, this week’s announcement has been a long time coming.
“Seven years ago, Gary Klein and I settled on a mission to expand the sport of professional bass fishing through competitive tournaments with an all new and exciting made-for-television format,” said Duckett in the news release.
“After assembling 13 more of the sport’s top-level professionals, the PBT (Pro Bass Tour Anglers Association) partnership was formed,” he added. “We always believed if we elevated the visibility of our sport everyone in our industry would be a beneficiary.
“The preparation leading to this moment has been slow, methodical and well thought-out to ensure the outcome would be positive for everyone connected to the sport. As a result, we have a fully developed plan ready to go. Everyone in the fishing industry should appreciate the new path that Outdoor Sportsman Group and Mr. Morris have helped pave for the sport’s future because of their own personal beliefs toward conservation and the responsible use of our fish and water resources.”
This week’s announcement has spawned a number of news stories around the country including one from Tulsa World outdoor writer Kelly Bostian who indicates that the Broken Arrow-based MLF offices will add an additional 40 to 50 employees as the group expands. What’s more, MLF Summit Cup champion and Bassmaster Classic champ Mike Iaconelli cryptically dealt with the subject matter on his Ike Live! podcast earlier this week.
There has also been intense social media reaction and speculation on such forums as TexasFishingForum.com as fishing fans clamor for information that includes what their favorite angling pros may decide to do if invited by MLF to join the new circuit.
While there has been some solid reporting and insightful observations made in stories by BassFan.com’s Todd Ceisner and John Johnson, much remains to be discovered as this new endeavor moves forward. One key question appears to be whether or not anglers who join the new circuit will be able to participate in the Bassmaster Elite Series and/or the FLW Tour going forward.
Johnson reported on Wednesday that at a series of current meetings with the invited anglers, they are being asked to make a commitment of three-years. While the new tour is apparently not prohibiting them from fishing with other organizations, that may be highly unlikely due to event dates, scheduling issues, and logistics.
“It’s a big step for these 80 guys because we’re asking them to quit their jobs as they know them and help us start something that we believe in,” said Duckett on BassFan.com. “For that commitment, we want to guarantee them three years.”
Duckett stated that there will likely be some anglers who decline the initial invite, which will prompt a second wave of invitations if necessary. But he also stated that he’s confident that many will jump at the chance.
“I’m sure there will be some (who decline), but I can’t imagine an angler who wants a pro career making a choice other than this one, and when they see the details of it, they’ll understand why,” he added in his comments to Johnson on BassFan.com.
“The payouts, the media platform, the potential for the growth of the sport, the whole package that they get to be a part of…when they see the horsepower that’s strapped to our rocket, they’ll have a good idea of what this thing’s capable of.”
Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available. In the meantime, visit www.MajorLeagueFishing.com and www.BassFan.com for more details.