Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour has brought attention to the catch, weigh, & immediate release tournament format but it also allows us to reflect on the way anglers have approached the traditional, 5 bass format. Co-founder of MLF, Boyd Duckett, along with several other MLF pros all have a similar message around the new format and that is- it’s a non-stop, all-in, heightened level of competition. These anglers cannot take their foot off the gas. It’s agreed by the pros that if you, as an MLF angler, aren’t catching bass, someone else is and you are falling behind. Jacob Wheeler caught over 129lbs of bass (88 fish total) in one day of competition on Table Rock Lake on May 31, 2019. Fun fact- his largest fish was 2lb-6oz that day. Can you imagine the pressure being another competitor, say, such as Shin Fukae (who caught 66 bass that same day) when seeing the score tracker updates on Wheeler’s weight? The format just lends itself to the inevitable constant stress of keeping up! The analogy has been made that this format is the cross-fit of the bass fishing tournament game, while Bassmaster might be called the weight lifting competition.
While the fitness comparison certainly seems valid, perhaps it leaves out an important nuance that all Bassmaster, FLW and other traditional format club anglers can reflect on: sense of urgency. The pressure the anglers are experiencing and describing in MLF should be present in Bassmaster and FLW too, but it isn’t being applied by most so the level of competition is less than it could be. The score tracker in MLF makes it evident what the competition is doing, like the scoreboard in a basketball game. But in say, a Bassmaster Elite Series event, that pressure should be there even though you can’t see it like in MLF. The pressure to do more and perform at a higher level has to come from within. A Bassmaster Elite angler should think twice before spending two minutes adjusting a Go-Pro camera or leisurely eating a snack or doing anything that’s not intentional and deliberate. Why? Because once one Elite pro carries themselves with that level of laser focus and sense of urgency to cull up or find that kicker, it puts the same pressure on everyone else in the field, just like we see in MLF. This is where the weight lifting analogy leaves out the subtlety of speed. Sure weight lifting requires time in between reps and a right cadence to maximize results. But why would a Bassmaster Elite angler want to make less casts or ever slow down? Slow down on a retrieve or bait action, sure, but we are talking macro here- you can’t catch a lunker if the bait isn’t in the water. Over the course of an 8 hour fishing day, several actions that are typically acceptable but are adding up to several minutes less of the bait in the water for many anglers.
Is the game ultra-competitive in Bassmaster and FLW? Absolutely, the pros live and breathe this sport and all want to win. They already do many things to prevent wasting time. But when several former anglers from both B.A.S.S. and FLW are saying it’s a new level of competitive stress at MLF, is it not an admittance that many weren’t putting that same level of stress on themselves prior? Let’s be clear, this could be just moving the dial up a degree or two for intensity, but that’s a big deal over the course of a 4 day competition and of course over a career. Here’s one example- the MFL pros handle fish more quickly once in the boat in general. Why should that not be the case in BASS? Some MLF pros actually choose baits that are easier to re-rig after a catch. Again, why is it acceptable in the traditional 5 bass formats to not worry as much about that? Even though the goal of catching big fish requires a different approach, it shouldn’t be a reason to execute that approach in a less urgent manner. It would be interesting to take a current MLF Bass Pro Tour competitor who was formerly in the Bassmaster Elite field and have them compete back again in the Bassmaster Elite field and see how their approach changes. Perhaps we already saw this with Ott Defoe winning the 2019 Bassmater Classic.