Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Evolution of Competitive Bass Fishing

In all things one fact cannot be debated, evolution requires change. Some changes happen organically, some out of ones control while others need to be forced. But no matter what, change is inevitable.

Recently, competitive bass fishing has seen a change with a large contingent of anglers leaving BASS to compete in the newly formed MLF Fishing League. Many were invited and its unknown how many turned down the opportunity.

Which is the curious question, how many saw it as an opportunity that benefited the sport or did the question revolve around how it benefited themselves? I can't fault them for asking the latter as BASS has taken much more than they give back to the "Talent" that keeps them in business.

In a recent article for BASS, Gene Gilliland wrote an article positing the question of whether Catch, Weigh, Release tournaments would be the end of traditional 5 fish limit weigh in tournaments. His article focused heavily on the merits of the traditional format while understandably ignoring those that CWR could offer. Why is it understandable? Gene works for BASS and his job wasn't to be objective.

His job was the same as any who are trying to minimize evolutionary changes that they believe could one day threaten their existence. Had he been confident in the strength of traditional tournaments he would have wrote an article touting the upside to the new format and the many benefits it could offer.

Before I go any further I do want to point out that in tournament fishing there are many different levels, all being different in various ways to each other while all having one thing in common in that they are all catching bass. It's the anglers, organizers, directors, rules that make each somewhat different from each other.

While I can see how CWR tournaments for local, jackpot, small boat, local federation competitions would directly benefit the bass populations and drastically reduce mortality rates I am not writing this opinion so that it is something to be pushed on those groups. The evolution for them needs to be one that happens organically and with help from larger tournament organizers like MLF, BASS and FLW because it would be a big change.

One aspects of Gene's article was that the traditional tournaments will survive due to the excitement of a weigh in at the end of the tournament. Because most local tournaments outside of BFL or BASS Weekend series are tournaments of 45 boats or less, this isn't an argument that relates to them. It's not a jab meant to cast aspersions on small tournaments, just a fact that there aren't crowds standing around waiting to see what they bring in.

This goes directly to the point of evolution in the sport. The one thing that BASS clings to when it comes to traditional tournaments are the people who come to the weigh ins.

Now that FLW has been purchased and moved forward with format changes this next detail is directly related to how BASS functions.

When BASS is choosing tournament destinations for say the Elite Series or Opens, quality of fish or lake aren't what dictates the final decision. They take bids from the localities and whomever submits the best offer literally wins the chance to have BASS come to their area. It's not bad business as I'm sure many traveling competitions do the same. The difference with BASS is that they don't pay any of that forward to the competitors.

Then there is the sponsor money that BASS takes in for event advertising that comes in from local print, internet, tv and radio to promote the event. It's big business that BASS is completely entitled to do and run however they see fit.

But, the problem with this is that it serves themselves, not the anglers who are what's called the "talent" and who ultimately are what fans come to see. To this day, anyone competing in a BASS event is competing for their own entry fee with no money being put into the event by BASS. Again, within their right. If you choose to enter one of their tournaments, you accept how they choose to run it.

Again, this is not in relation to a one day BASS Weekend event. This would apply to the Elite Series and Opens.

So, what are the benefits of CWR and why do they make sense for anglers who went to MLF?

While BASS clings to the weigh ins, it is actually what has been holding the sport back for quite some time because what has been needed to help that along is a tv audience large enough to demand top dollar for advertising. Sure, fans at weigh ins are great, but they don't pay and there isn't a free fan experience anywhere besides a bass tournament.

In doing this, MLF made it possible to guarantee a certain dollar amount competitors receive for coming on board. This is a game changer for Pros wanting to fish harder, take more risks and for the first time feel like Pro level athletes that aren't competing for their own entry fee. They found a reason to make the anglers more important than the fish while finding a way to reduce mortality rates that occur from keeping fish in a livewell for 8 hours.

Another argument Gene had was that by going to a CWR format, it would play into the hands of environmental groups and further hurt tournament fishing. He said his with no foundation of evidence to support his claim which I consider to be nothing more than fear mongering designed to stop what is desperately needed in our sport, Evolution!

By moving to a CWR format, MLF has created a fan base that is willing to watch it on tv and now the local fan experience goes towards other things. It's still a fun event at the launch area but the anglers are now more of a small aspect because many fans have been watching live while they were on the water.

What's funny is that BASS already has this format available to them with their BASStrak live feed that they carry. There is only one thing holding them back from evolution, themselves.

P.S. The fear of change is common but making decisions based on fear leaves a person paralyzed and beholding to that emotion.

I once asked a stock broker client of mine what it was like to be in that business. He said I didn't want to know. I asked if it was because of the constant changes of the market and unpredictability of stocks? His answer was yes. I reminded him that I'm a bass fisherman. Uncertainty is my life!

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