By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Skeet Reese ranks his performance during the MLF Bass Pro Tour's inaugural campaign as one of the three worst seasons of his more than two-decade professional career.
There was his first tour-level season in the old Bassmaster Top 150s in 1998-99, when he failed to finish higher than 56th in any of the six events and posted an average placement of 97th.
Then there was the 2011 Elite Series, which featured three bombs of 77th place or worse and no finishes among the top 20 in a field of 99 competitors. He was forced to sit out the 2012 Classic at the Red River in Louisiana, where he'd won that event three years earlier.
His BPT ledger from last year shows just two finishes among the top half of the 80-angler field – a 23rd at Lake Conroe and a 36th at Smith Lake. At the other six derbies, it was two rounds and out for him.
"I didn't perform well at all," said Reese, one of MLF's charter angler/investors. "I think some of it was the stress of launching a new tour and the responsibility of providing a platform for a whole group of guys to try to make a living. Are we doing the right thing? Do we really have the right product to make a sustainable tour for the future?"
Can't Please 'Em All
Reese is fully aware that many of the sport's most ardent longtime followers would answer no to both of the above questions.
"The vast majority of them don't know what's happening or why it's happening," he said. "It's not about bashing people, which is what a lot of people are trying to do to us. MLF was started by anglers, for anglers, and unless you've fished for a living, and most people never have, you'll never know what it's like to be a bass pro – what this group of guys have gone through and how they've been treated.
"It was started because there were a lot of unhappy anglers. How do we create a better product for the fans and for the angler who truly wants to make his livelihood as a pro bass fisherman? Now that we've got a year under our belt, we've proven that the format is successful for TV and from a live-streaming standpoint and there's a huge amount of fans who love it.
"The haters are going to hate and I know they're always going to be there, but I also know that we're winning the race here," he continued. "That all comes with growing the fan base, growing the viewership and growing participation. We're moving the needle, and I hadn't seen the needle move in my 21-year career prior to this."
Confident of Rebound
Reese bounced back nicely from both of his previous bad years and doesn't foresee any issues with doing it again. He believes that his skill set is well-suited for the BPT format.
"I don't think I have to change much," he said. "My whole career has been based on versatility and on the BPT that's super-important. There's going to be more emphasis on catching big ones this year – we've got a 2-pound minimum for the first event (at Lake Eufaula Feb. 7-12) and that's something we've never had before in MLF.
"That might change things a little bit. There's still going to be plenty of 2-pounders caught on spinning rods, but I'm also going to have a swimbait, a jig and a square-bill tied on. It's still going to be about catching as many fish as possible in a given day whether they weigh 1, 2 or 6 pounds."
He admits that he wasn't in peak form psychologically last year, due to a combination of "lots of different things in life" and the BPT stress factors mentioned previously.
"Mentally, I wasn't in a real good space; things weren't flowing. I probably tried to force things in a lot of situations and that doesn't work very good. If I wasn't catching them, I'd say I've got to go do this or that, and then it still wouldn't happen. One bad decision led to another.
"I've had three bad years in my career and last year was one of them. A lot of people would really love to have the career I've had. I'm always open-minded to new techniques, but I've still got to go out and fish the way I like to fish and hopefully I can put last season behind me."