I’ve got to say, pro bass fishing has come a long way. While it’s always hard to accept change, the recent expansion of our sport has made for some blockbuster showings. Add the recent FLW Super Tournament to the list.
Jacob Wheeler proved why he’s the best tournament bass angler in the world right now with a dominant showing at home, based on a format now completely foreign to his usual game plan. While some may consider that statement a stretch, I can’t overemphasize how vastly different the five-fish program is from MLF’s “everything counts” concept, how it changes the approach of the anglers and how it impacts the outcome of every event.
A case in point, on the final day of competition at Chickamauga, Wheeler struggled through much of the morning. But so did his challengers. The clock continued to run out as just about everybody (with the exception of an optimistic Miles Burghoff) tried to hold on. We watched as the best in the world begged for 2-pounders on the top trophy lake in the country. Everything was wrong.
Compare that with just about every MLF event in recent history, where we always seem to notice an opponent swing for the fences and hit the ball. We see miraculous comebacks and leaderboard changes by the minute. In essence, we see the competitors forced to make changes they should have made already; some resulting in failures and a few in triumph.
Does that make the ScoreTracker format better? No, just different.
In this case, what wasn’t different was the winner. With his most recent victory, Wheeler lays claim to three wins in a shortened 2020 season and six in the last year-and-a-half. His dominance spans multiple circuits and formats, against everyone from the best locals to the Edwin Everses of the world. It will be interesting to see how long Wheeler’s reign will last, as the kings of our sport seem to be dethroned rather quickly lately as compared to the reigns of old.
A few other interesting tidbits from the Super Tourney:
We saw credit to multiple brands of electronics on the competitors’ boats. This is something I noticed some time ago – really opening my eyes to it when I shared a boat with Bryan Thrift last year. Here, we see that some of the best in the sport are foregoing sponsorship in exchange for performance, as each manufacturer is bringing a little something different to the table in terms of locating bass all around the boat.
I think such resistance to brand loyalty is very interesting and may even signal another growth spurt for bass fishing. We first saw this large scale with the Minn Kota Ultrex trolling motor, when just about every pro in the sport went out and got one for the simple fact that electronic controls (like Spot-Lock) were undeniably an advantage.
Now we’re seeing the same thought process with graphs. What’s next? Will there be a time when pros use multiple brands of rods, reels and lures and readily admit how each fills a certain niche? Cool stuff, and an aspect that will propel us further and possibly help break away from phony-baloney stereotypes I loathe.
Another take-away from last week: Hooray for the weekday coverage! I think this is a step in the right direction. The old argument still holds water: I want to go fishing on the weekends, not watch it. And besides, the new instant coverage is proving to be something most fans watch in small pieces rather than a start-to-finish “game” as in other sports. It’s much more fun to slack off at work and watch fishing than forfeit time with the family.
A few critical points, too. First, to all the professional anglers out there: count your fish! Good Lord. One, two, three, four, FIVE. Not six! There should be no six!
And to the TV producers, a little advice from someone who's been watching for 30 years: Get away from the “buddy-buddy” feel between the television broadcasters and the competitors.
I understand that the bass pros are nice guys and I realize that many of the TV personalities are in their circle of friends. But ask yourself, when watching a baseball game or golf match or basketball game or whatever, how many times do the announcers attempt to humanize the star athlete, bringing him down to the level of us mere mortals? Never. Never do we hear how they played hoops with the guy, or ate dinner last night with his kids.
Yet for some reason, every single television team in professional bass fishing feels the need to constantly work this angle. Like they have more validity because they hang out with the pros. They refuse to see it hurts more than helps in terms of elevating the athletes.
Anyway, on the positive, I was just blown away by how MLFLW pulled this thing off. We may very well see more “blended events” in the future. I mean, it had it all – big fish, big names and tons of quality coverage.
From what I saw, the bar was raised a bit. And like many of you, I’m gobbling up every bit of it.
(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.)