For the second year in a row, Major League Fishing has chosen the autumn months to unleash a landscape altering earthquake upon the professional bass fishing world.
Last year, it was the announcement of the creation of the MLF Bass Pro Tour, a no-entry fee league that used MLF”s SCORETRACKER Live! Leaderboard system and instantaneous scoring of all legally caught bass through the group’s catch-weigh-and-release format.
Those are terms that many fishing fans had grown familiar with in recent years through MLF’s immensely popular television series on Outdoor Channel and other networks. Covering many of these anglers and the professional events they have fished during my days with ESPN Outdoors and now with Outdoor Sportsman Group, I took close interest myself as the tournament fishing world changed forever.
When the smoke had cleared last fall and the BPT league’s 80 invitations had been accepted, some of the sport’s all-time heavyweights had shifted their allegiance from B.A.S.S. (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, founded by Ray Scott in the late 1960s) to MLF and its fledgling pro tour.
Names that jumped ship last fall included the sport’s reigning GOAT (Greatest of All-Time), four-time Bassmaster Classic champ and seven-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam, also a multi-time winner of MLF Cup level events.
Also switching to the BPT last fall were 2017 and 2018 Classic champ Jordan Lee along with his brother Matt; 2017 AOY winner Brandon Palaniuk; 2016 Classic champ and former SOSU football player Edwin Evers; 2014 Classic champ Randy Howell; and 2012 AOY winner Brent Chapman.
Added in were a slew of other household angling greats — with AOY titles, Classic trophies and numerous B.A.S.S. wins on their resumes — including the likes of Gary Klein, Kelly Jordon, Takahiro Omori, Greg Hackney, Mike Iaconelli, Mark Davis, Alton Jones and many more.
In a matter of days, dozens of pro anglers — and the fans that follow them — had switched work addresses from one tour to another, leaving many fishing fans to wonder if someone got the license number of the runaway bus that had run over the sport’s once familiar landscape.
Yesterday, MLF did it again with the announcement that it had fulfilled a long-standing rumor in the pro angling world, acquiring Fishing League Worldwide, known to most angling fans as the FLW Tour and all of its satellite circuits.
“Our business plan always included reaching all levels of grassroots fishing,” said Boyd Duckett, MLF co-founder and president of the Professional Bass Tour Anglers’ Association (PBTAA), in a press release.
“Most of us grew up and came up through FLW,” said Duckett — a former Classic champ himself — in a separate press release. “Their culture has always been pro-angler, and that’s our culture (at MLF) as well.
“We started MLF to make competitive bass fishing better for competitive anglers — that’s the driving structure of all we do at MLF, and that same driving force will exist (with FLW). We’re angler owned: we’re fishing guys, we’re tournament guys. We’re working daily to make it better, and I couldn’t think of a better opportunity for FLW anglers at all levels.”
In a year that saw the sudden death of FLW founder Irwin Jacobs, the announcement brought closure to a sometimes turbulent year-long period in the pro angling world.
“This announcement marks a thrilling new chapter in FLW’s history as we join Major League Fishing and begin a new era in the sport of competitive bass fishing,” said FLW President of Operations Kathy Fennel, in a news release. “The complementary strengths of our organizations make this a win for the entire sport.”
Briefly, here are some of the highpoints of the MLF/FLW marriage, at least what is known at the moment: the remaining 2019 schedule will continue on; the 2020 schedule for FLW High School Fishing, YETI College Fishing, T-H Marine BFL and Costa Series circuits will continue; the Costa Series will see three regions added; and entry fees will be reduced for boaters and co-anglers alike in the BFL and Costa Series.
Meanwhile, the new FLW Pro Circuit will feature a six-day competition schedule next year that has a traditional five-fish limit on Days 1 through 3 and MLF’s format on Days 4-6. Those final three days will feature two 10-angler Knockout Rounds and a final day Championship Round for 10 anglers.
In those final three rounds, MLF will have in-boat officials to manage the competition, administer the rules and weigh the fish. What’s more, payouts for the Pro Circuit will extend to 75th place, fully half of the field.
With a new Angler of the Year Championship serving as the signature and final event of the Pro Circuit, the new tournament will take the place of the longstanding FLW Cup.
Finally, the circuit’s most successful anglers will qualify to compete in the Bass Pro Tour, although full details on this are still forthcoming.