The Buyout: What it Means for Pro Bass Fishing

Oct 11, 2019

Things continue to happen fast in the world of big league bass fishing, where Major League Fishing (MLF) announced yesterday that they are gobbling up Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) in yet another move that must have the lights burning late at night at B.A.S.S. headquarters in Birmingham.

MLF stunned the tournament industry last year by convincing a majority of the top names in the Bassmaster Elite circuit, arguably the best-known and most financially-successful competitive anglers in freshwater fishing, to jump ship from their long-term relationship with the 50-year old B.A.S.S. and move into a new made-for-television series that so far has pretty much lived up to expectations, delivering very watchable competition where viewers truly get the sense of the moment-by-moment intensity and emotion involved when lots of money is on the line.

To be sure, a few fans (and some in the industry) threw bricks at the pro’s who jumped to the MLF after being made famous (and rich in some cases) by the public relations muscle of B.A.S.S. and the industry connections that brought high-dollar sponsorships. 

But there were also some on the Elite circuit who felt the tournament organization was making an excessive profit on the backs of those who pay-to-play. Tournament fishing, unlike other pro sports, depends on the participants to fund themselves,  and it can be very, very expensive, starting with a boat and truck package that will approach $100,000, tens of thousands in entry fees and many more thousands in travel expenses, plus lots of time on the road which makes working a “normal” job impossible and also cuts many off from their families for weeks at a time. A few get rich, but many go broke. It ain’t for sissies, to be sure.  

MLF, co-founded by Boyd Duckett, a highly successful B.A.S.S. Elite pro and businessman in his own right, offered select pros what most viewed as a more equitable and dependable financial package. When a few of the top names agreed to enter the new circuit and abandon B.A.S.S., the rush was suddenly on for those invited in.   

MLF also touts a couple of technical advantages over the venerable B.A.S.S. circuit, started by Ray Scott in 1967 and still following basically the same format. The MLF Bass Pro Tour consists of eight events and a championship streamed live onwww.MajorLeagueFishing.com and MOTV. MLF uses the conservation-friendly catch, weigh and immediate-release format where every scorable bass counts, the tally is kept by a marshal in the boat and the winner is the angler with the highest cumulative weight. 

First, the fact that anglers can score lots of points by getting on a school of relatively small bass in the MLF circuit means there’s a lot more action available on-camera than in the B.A.S.S. format where anglers purposely avoid small fish to catch the 4 to 5 pounders almost always needed to win on quality fisheries. Anglers routinely catch 50 or more bass per day on camera in MLF events—the action is almost continuous.

Second, since the cameras are in the boats continuously, anglers can’t say they caught their bass on their sponsor’s Hula-Wiggler-Wobbler when in fact they caught it on the lure of a competitor not their sponsor. And they also can’t fib about where and how they’re fishing—the camera sees it all, and so do the fans. If they’re finesse fishing, we know immediately. Ditto for flippin’, for crankbaiting and for popping the top—and watching them live as they sort through the possibilities that might turn on the $100,000 bite puts the viewer in the boat. It’s a real education for all who love bass angling. 

Last but not least, the immediate release format assures that virtually 100 percent of the bass caught will survive, and since they’re released right back into the same locations from where they were caught, there’s no disruption of the eco-system, as there is sometimes when large numbers of spawners are caught and moved out of a spawning area during the weigh-in process. (B.A.S.S. takes very good care of their fish and loses a tiny percentage of them, but they do have some casualties.) 

All of this said, the buyout is unlikely to have an immediate negative impact on B.A.S.S. A new generation of Elite heroes is being made on the water this season, and with the company’s strong ties in the industry forged over generations, their powerful web presence, increased live streaming and the venerable Bassmaster Magazine reaching their half-million members monthly, the company’s future looks strong. 

In fact, we may at some point down the road see a sort of AFC/NFC competition where teams from each league go head to head to determine who, in fact, has bragging rights for the top competitive bass anglers on the planet. It’s an intriguing concept, sure to draw a whole lot of eyeballs to TV and streaming devices should it ever happen. We’ll be watching, and we’ll keep you posted. 

—Frank Sargeant
Sargeant is editor of our companion service, The Fishing Wire (www.thefishingwire.com).