By Steve Graf
In my lifetime, I can’t remember there being such division among the American people. Whether it’s a moral or political point of view, we just can’t seem to come to common ground. Likewise, three years ago there was a split in the professional bass fishing ranks. Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society known as B.A.S.S. and its members (professional anglers) had a parting of ways due to differences of opinion on several topics. The powers that be at B.A.S.S. have done things a certain way since the beginning of time and were not willing to compromise on many of these topics. I’ll now give you my perspective as to what happened and what gave birth to an organization now known as MLF or Major League Fishing.
Pretty much all sports have people that think they know a better way to do things. Professional athletes just might have the biggest egos on the planet. Professional bass fishermen are no different, as egos abound, and many think they are the next greatest angler to ever grace the front deck of a boat. Not all professional anglers have one of these super egos, but there are many that do and some of these guys have their own idea as to how an organization should be run. Basically, what happened three years ago is that tour anglers got together (semi-unionized) and decided to approach B.A.S.S. with their ideas on what changes they would like to see made to accommodate the pro’s better.
Over the years, B.A.S.S. has set the schedule and determined when and where the anglers would fish. They set the rules and regulations for all B.A.S.S. events. Professional anglers wanted a bigger say, especially when it came to the scheduled dates. B.A.S.S. over the years has never taken into consideration special dates like Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July, or any other holidays. They said when and where the events were set and expected all anglers to be there no matter what. It was not negotiable! Anglers also wanted more input in some of the rules and how they were applied… like the “no information” rule which is where anglers can’t seek, barter, or retrieve information about a body of water during the dead water period. This has been a controversial topic for years with all professional bass fishing circuits.
So, after the anglers met with B.A.S.S. officials, it was determined that the officials were not willing to give the anglers a say on scheduling events, nor were they receptive to any other suggestions the anglers had. Therefore, 80 anglers decided to venture out and start their own tournament organization where they had a say as to how things were done. They would determine the schedule, set the dates, and make the rules for what they thought would work better. This is what we know today as MLF or Major League Fishing. This idea had actually been in the works for two or three years prior to 80 anglers leaving B.A.S.S. to be a part of the MLF Pro Tour. Now this was a blow for B.A.S.S., but in truth has not really phased B.A.S.S. at all. They are, and have been, the leader in tournament bass fishing since its inception back in the late 1960’s. B.A.S.S. is also home to the greatest tournament in the world….The Bassmaster Classic! This is the biggest tournament in the world, and it is all anglers dream to win this event. Professional football players have the Super Bowl, baseball has the World Series and bass fishing has the Bassmaster Classic.
So, for the last three years MLF has waged their own war in the bass fishing world and appears to be fairly strong at this time, but there have been a few signs that things may not be as kosher as MLF wants us to think. Each of the last three years, highly popular anglers have left MLF only to return to B.A.S.S. These have included top name pros like Brandon Palaniuk, Gerald Swindle, Jacob Powroznik, Mike Iaconelli, Jason Christie, John Cox, Justin Adkins and Louisiana’s Greg Hackney…guys who have made a name for themselves and are considered some of the best anglers in the world. If this exodus continues, MLF may not survive. They can’t continue to lose top name anglers to B.A.S.S.
In actuality, professional bass fishing needs this organization to be successful. There too many anglers trying to make a living professionally and having only one organization to accommodate them is just not enough. Major League Fishing is also something new and different when it comes to their format of catching as many bass as you can in a day, rather than just your best 5, which has been the standard for all tournament trails since the 1990’s. MLF requires a little different mindset versus going out and catching 5 big ones. Furthermore, it makes for great TV coverage when every fish counts. This is what MLF promised the anglers who left B.A.S.S., more TV exposure not only for themselves, but their sponsors as well.
The jury is still out on MLF, but hopefully they will continue to enhance and attract more anglers who are looking to fish this style of event. While B.A.S.S continues to be the standard that all anglers hope to reach, MLF for now will have to try and keep as many top name pros as they can if they want to survive. Till next time, good luck, good fishing and don’t forget to set the hook!