Grow the sport.

Three little words we’re sure hearing a lot lately.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been introduced to a number of players whose intention to grow the sport of bass fishing encompass several different angles. Will any of them succeed?

If the incredible predictions are true – that this is a time like never before in professional bass fishing, when massive changes are sweeping across our platform and could potentially take the sport to a new level – can we mold it into something more desirable, possibly correcting the imperfections we’ve created?

Is there even a plan in place?

For starters, I refer to the formation of the Bass Pro Tour and it’s expectation of “massive growth across the entire industry as a result of positive changes for all anglers, sponsors and fans.”

Initial press releases were filled with optimism beyond what anyone could believe. But conversations with several marketing executives within the industry have me wondering.

None have predicted an increase in sales of their products due to the formation of a new tour. None have confirmed sponsorship of the venture, either. And more than one questioned if they will continue to support members of their pro team who jumped ship.

I heard no mention of growth.

Doubtful, I continued to comb the media for additional input on the dozens of gray areas being created by the BPT and B.A.S.S alike. I came across an interview with Boyd Duckett.

Now, I must admit, I was initially swayed by conversations with those on the inside track – believers that Duckett and partners were out to cripple B.A.S.S. and obliterate the Elite tour. Maybe they are.

But, according to what I heard, that’s never been the intention. Consider the remarks given by Duckett:

“B.A.S.S.' and FLW’s business model is very different than ours ... I don’t see it as competition for the tours.”

“There was never an intention to be, in any way, damaging to B.A.S.S.”

“Our goal is to find a way to bring more people into the sport …and …invest in the future in the form of media platforms. Television is a slowly sinking media.”

And, possibly the most important, yet least talked about:

“We have to be respectful of our environment … that’s one of our goals going forward ... things in this world today get taken care of by groups and you have to have a voice and the outdoorsmen in this country today don’t have as big of a voice as they used to, making people aware of our outdoors and our fisheries. That's all part of this plan.”

Stop right there.

It baffles me that we haven’t heard more of this. There’s talk of payouts and investment of millions of dollars. There’s press releases outlining media coverage and television networks being name-dropped at every opportunity.

Sure, there’s been a reference or two to removing livewells from the game, but this is the first I’ve heard talk of the environmental impact, the reduction of such through the MLF format, and how it may unify outdoorsmen. In essence, grow the sport.

Let’s back up and look at this historically. In the early stages of competitive fishing, all bass were kept for the table. Later, bass fishing’s greatest visionary, Ray Scott, introduced a concept that bass could be “recycled," in essence, through catch-and-release procedures. Major boat manufacturers – most notably Ranger Boats – designed and implemented the first livewell systems for tournament anglers. The concept of catch-and-release became en vogue with anglers all across America, and is likely more responsible for the stellar fishing of today than any other factor.

Fast forward to 2018, and we have another movement catching on. Thanks to Major League Fishing, more anglers are realizing that there’s another way to settle the score in bass tournaments other than holding fish captive all day. Today’s catch-weigh-release practices are soon to be an accepted model of professional fishing, whether we like it or not, and more groups are adopting the principle.

More fans and spectators are noticing that, perhaps, catching fish isn’t all that cruel of an activity, especially when they’re tossed right back where they live.

In addition, we must take notice of MLF’s leading partner, Bass Pro Shops, and its history of environmental partnerships. Make no mistake, folks, few people in the world contribute more time and money toward programs designed to benefit fish and game than Johnny Morris, despite being one of the country’s most successful businessmen. Whether it be ducks, deer, bass or billfish, Morris has his wallet open constantly to help fund and unify sportsmen, thus growing participation of outdoor sports through sustained conservation.

It will be interesting to see how far Duckett’s plan pushes the environmental issue. Will he and partners be responsible for a new sportsman’s voice like we haven’t seen since Scott stepped out of the spotlight? Will MLF be successful in uniting anglers, changing the accepted tournament model, and growing the sport?

With critical environmental issues impacting our waterways more prevalent each day, I’d be the first to support the notion.

(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)