With a new year comes a new season in professional bass fishing, the likes of which we may have never seen before. Three major players now comprise the industry, each with their own advantage: MLF holds star power, B.A.S.S. the media machine and FLW the largest customer base.
Which business model will separate itself from the pack? It’s hard to say.
Numerous differences exist in the format of each trail, however, none is so glaring as the quantity vs. quality argument being presented by fans. In this case, the age-old accepted program of five-fish limits is tossed out the window, replaced by the “anything counts” model adopted by Major League Fishing.
I must admit, after reviewing a bit of the PR for the upcoming MLF/BPT season, I chuckled at the obvious elephant in the room. Throughout a majority of the MLF hype, we see upcoming venues being presented as premier destinations for lunker hunters.
Lake Conroe forecasts include rumors that fans “could see a 13 or 14-pounder," and talks abound of near double-digit fish being weighed in the 2017 Bassmaster Classic held there (under the five-fish limit format).
Regarding stop No. 1 at Toho, Dean Rojas’ record catch is mega-hyped (again, established under the old format), with other lunkers showcased throughout early publicity.
But here, obviously, lies the problem: MLF’s new format has no chance of duplicating such feats. Now, before anyone jumps off a cliff, notice I didn’t say that the MLF model won’t produce incredible action and drama, sure to entertain much of the bass fishing public, because it certainly will. Previous MLF events produced some of the best fishing entertainment ever on television. But, for the most part, this isn’t a lunker hunt, as we’re led to believe.
Now, could a 10-pounder swallow one lucky angler’s gurgling Speedworm? Sure, it could happen. But for the most part, we’ll be watching competitors battle to catch every last 2-pounder that swims in the lake.
Such takes us back to this week’s original question: quality, or quantity? Is one better for the sport?
I say, quite possibly.
As I’ve stated here in the past, occasionally we grow so accustomed to a certain way of thinking that we accept it as the only way. Such could be said of baseball caps and bass boats. However, if we’re able to re-approach a topic from its inception, we might find a better way.
Think about it this way: for ump-teen years now, we’ve been told that the purpose of tournament bass fishing is to continue to grow the sport. Yet, with the barriers currently in place prohibiting entry (boat prices, giant outboards, high-tech everything), we’re doing little to recruit all but a very select few from following in the footsteps of the pros. Once more, the aspect of success – as we measure it in the tournament world – is foreign to the recreational fisherman.
Compare that, if you will, to the approach of the everyday anglers. How do they measure success? By enjoying a relaxing day on the water and catching a few fish. The more, the merrier; big, small, whatever. An accidental gar draws as much attention as a nice bass, and likely creates a more dramatic story at the end of the day.
Here, you see, is where MLF may just hold the upper hand. In the coming years, provided the new format holds enough weight to last, it’s not out of the possibility that the quantity model may, indeed, change the face of competitive fishing all across North America.
I envision bass clubs, possibly even high school and college trails, mimicking the MLF program, provided they can find a way to incorporate scales in each boat. The long-gone idea of boater/boater draws may again be used to resolve any marshaling issue. It’s possible.
I mention the format holding enough weight for a very specific reason. In the past, we’ve too often seen new ideas tabled in favor of accepted practices based solely on sponsorships and support from the fishing industry. For once, I hope we can all view this new direction with an open mind.
Last night, I got off the water just before dark to watch a father and his son pull in. On vacation in Florida, they’d started early, with visions of lunkers dancing in their heads. Their full day hadn’t brought any 8-pounders, but both the father and the boy remained upbeat.
“Still,” the father said when I asked of his catch “we caught 19 bass.”
“Yeah,” the youngster chimed in, “I caught 10.”
(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.)