Last year brought sweeping changes to the professional bass industry, and 2020 is proving to be no different. More specifically, we’re seeing modifications to the new model, likely aiming to make things more fan-friendly. But have they come too soon? Some believe so.
In this case, I’m speaking of the changes announced to the Bass Pro Tour – fishing’s newest and apparently most flexible organized league. At the inception of the BPT, fans were excited to learn that the traditional rules of Major League Fishing – namely, counting every catch – would carry over to the new tour. Yet those same fans apparently tired of small fish running up the ScoreTracker. Arguments suggested that such made for entertaining TV for a little while, but quickly lacked the substance needed by BassFans.
I've been critical, pointing out that an episode of BPT TV teaches me nothing other than which pro practiced his punchlines. There’s no time for fishing education, something most of us yearn for.
Recently, however, MLF has announced several modifications, designed in plain sight to increase the catch size in 2020. Each venue will now come with a minimum size bass, maybe as high as three pounds apiece, and a big-bass bonus lands contenders in a special high-stakes event all of their own.
In addition, we recently learned that most MLF television programming will include a more in-depth focus on lures and techniques, adding to the nerdy-ness we all need.
Major League Fishing is listening, and guys like me are delighted. But maybe not everyone is so enthused.
Over the past week, I’ve been surprised to talk to a few industry insiders who say MLF has become too adaptable; that the message and the purpose is being sold out to pressure from those who were never part of the plan.
Specifically, I’ve heard that the entire inception of the new programming was based on expansion of the sport – away from regular fans and bass geeks like us – and toward the folks who just occasionally cast a line but are crazy for fast-paced sports.
When I think back, I can remember the original MLF hype. It went something like “we envision watching this in a sports bar" and “we need a change." The purpose, as I was made to believe, was to produce a product for the non-fishermen, and to do so, that product needed to be different from the accepted norm.
You see, therein lies the argument against any type of MLF alteration. We’ve tried the hardcore techniques thing. We’ve tried the weigh-in model. The big-bass venues, the camera-over-the-shoulder, the spot-tracker; all of it. All those things that I, and most likely you and all your buddies, love. And that brought us to 2019, with a sport still on the back burner.
A wonderful sport, yes. But one with less than one tenth the viewership of tennis.
So here comes MLF with this new product. One that, from what I remember, was intended to provide fast-paced action for those more interested in score changes than lure changes.
So is the MLF crew backing down? Are they already giving up the ship? What’s next, a weigh-in? God, help us.
I’d like to hear your thoughts. I also intend to investigate the thought process of those behind the changes. And possibly the athletes involved, if they’ll give me their true take.
Because at this point, I’m not sure what to think. Sure, expansion of professional bass fishing can be considered a good thing on many levels. Increased exposure leads to more interest and dollars coming into the sport, lending its way to a better path to enjoy fishing as a whole. It allows many newcomers a real shot at a lifetime of dedication.
I love the thought of the MLF changes; I can’t say that enough. But am I being selfish? Maybe it’s the things I don’t love – even those that I’ll simply never understand – that should be what the sport attaches to. Just look at the Super Bowl and it’s hugely-hyped halftime show. What in the world was going on there?
I’m just an aging fishermen from a generation now forgotten by the media. I shouldn’t matter.
(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.)