Hook, Line & Thinker: The Evolution of Professional Bass Fishing

by Chris McCotter

Professional bass fishing is extremely difficult to follow, frustrating existing fans and turning off prospective followers. Broadcasts are average when compared to other major sports, leaving lifelong fans yearning for Bob Cobb on Saturday mornings making the Bassmasters come alive. 

   FLW had a good run. This was a family-oriented league with grass roots pros and a few of the legends and FLW’s famous million-dollar pay out. B.A.S.S. and FLW were at odds, but both generated large turnouts. But it was FLW that backed down when a conflict with the Bassmaster Classic schedule occurred. 

   When sports leader ESPN purchased B.A.S.S., they started with a bang, wall-to-wall Bass Center. The Classic was moved from late summer, which was a huge fan success, to winter to avoid conflicts with major sports. Professional bass fishing had arrived. 

   A couple of decades later and the Classic remains in February after a big gap in top level tournament activity over the winter, prohibiting the crown jewel of bass fishing from taking place above the Mason Dixon line. What used to be billed as an opportunity for a pro to earn a million dollars, although the top Classic prize was $300,000, has been all but discarded as the winner picks up their check and then heads into the new season. Classic Champ Woo Daves was one of the last winners who capitalized on his win with a one-year victory lap. 

  Pro fishing trails became more expensive, and payouts didn’t keep pace. A group of well-backed anglers created Major League Fishing. MLF was supposed to be the anglers trail, with pros having a say in rules and regulations, even fishing destinations. They came on with the promise of television exposure to grow the sport, good news for advertisers. While there are more opportunities for sponsors, the pool is diluted, and companies must align with the right mix of anglers to achieve coverage. The pie is still spent, but angler slices are smaller. 

   Just when you thought it wouldn’t get any worse, B.A.S.S. now requires Opens anglers to fish the entire nine-event series to qualify for the Elites. Committing to fishing all events, anglers must come up with sponsors or have mommy-daddy money to compete. Not to mention taking time off to hit the road along with those expenses. 

    Now MLF is muddying the water even more. The most difficult trail to follow is now joining the status quo by fishing five fish tournaments with immediate release. 

  While this appears to be a return to normalcy, it was their CWR example that set fisheries managers into motion to restrict catch and keep events, guiding tournament directors to switch to a catch weigh and release format. Oh, and MLF will still have catch as-many-as-you-can events.

    Even TV Guide couldn’t follow the sport now. Fans will pick a favorite angler and follow them. While tournaments will continue, touring pros need sponsors and this support isn’t growing at the same pace as entry fees, travel, and fuel expenses.

Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac bass fishing guide & freelance writer. Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.

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