If you're a fan of professional bass fishing, I'm certain you're well aware of the massive changes that have occurred in the past few years. A lot of the household names with which we grew up in the B.A.S.S. organization decided to fish a new tournament trail called Major League Fishing (MLF). This certainly divided fishing fans and, in some way, altered the industry itself.
I think competition is an excellent thing in any industry. Competition creates both innovation and change which are both needed to advance this sport. This competition, however, has created some interesting storylines and made professional bass fishing pretty darn interesting to follow.
Both organizations are stocked with stellar anglers and good people; I don't think anyone can argue against that. You'll find a lot of the grizzled veterans fishing the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour Events. On the Elite Series, you're going to find a bunch of young studs that eat, sleep and breathe fishing. They're hungry and energetic. This makes for a fascinating dynamic in my opinion.
Why don't we take advantage of said storylines and make it into something much bigger? Some folks think the Elite Series is the best and some folks think MLF is the best. Why don't we meet by the proverbial monkey bars each year in a bracket-style tournament and settle the debate? The winner gets bragging rights and a bunch of money.
I've been thinking about this for a while and while this format is certainly not perfect and surely has hundreds of factors to consider, I think this discussion should at least be started. If both organizations worked together they could both uncover some incredible opportunities for not only themselves, but the sport itself.
Here are my initial (and imperfect) ideas.
Other major sports don't do it this way
Currently, both fishing leagues have their own championship events. B.A.S.S. has the Bassmaster Classic and MLF has the REDCREST event. Both events claim to produce the world champion of bass fishing. While it's life changing to the winners of both events, I think we could easily produce a more definitive world champion for the sake of fishing fans, national exposure and ratings.
The ways it's done now would be like the NFL season stopping after the NFC and AFC championship games. Both conferences crown their championship, there's no Super Bowl and everybody goes home and waits for next season. It's also like the MLB not playing the World Series after the American League and National League pennants are won. It just doesn't make sense to me.
Why don't we take the top performers from both the Elites and MLF Bass Pro Tour and pit them against each other in a bracket-style tournament format? Battle it out for three days on the water and crown a definitive world champion who nobody can dispute. I would assume professional anglers want to fish against the very best competition on the planet, so there shouldn't be many excuses to be made. Let's create a fun and respectful rivalry for which fans of both organizations can be excited.
How is the bracket set up?
I don't think this needs to be a particularly long event that drags out and loses the interest of fans. I think a three-day tournament with the third day being Championship Day is pretty reasonable for most folks.
In order to make this possible, I would take the top four in Angler of the Year (AOY) points from each league after each full season and seed them according to their standings. For instance, the Elite Series AOY would fish the first round against the No. 4 angler in the MLF AOY standings. On the other side of the bracket, the MLF AOY would fish against the No. 4 angler in the Elite Series standings. Each of the first four rounds would be Elite Series and MLF anglers fishing against one another.
Let's say the tournament starts on a Friday. The semifinals would be on Saturday and the World Championship would be on a Sunday, just like the Super Bowl. Surely if both organizations decided to work together and use their collective influences and connections, a major television network could pick up the event and broadcast it live to millions of people.
I made a bracket based on the 2020 Angler of the Year standings for both trails. Think about the potential storylines and excitement it could create. There are so many different possible outcomes, it makes me excited just thinking about it.
But wait… both organizations have a different format
Much has been said about the format differences between Major League Fishing and the Bassmaster Elite Series. MLF doesn't do the traditional five-bass limit format, so how in the world could you make this hypothetical tournament a level playing field? To be honest, there's not a perfect answer, but here is my best solution to that.
Let the anglers practice for a day or two and the night before the tournament, all eight anglers get together with the tournament directors of both organizations and do an old-fashioned coin flip to decide which format to use. This would only be for the first year, though.
After the first year, maybe decide which format to use based on the previous year's winner. For instance, if an MLF angler won in 2021, the World Championship would be fished in MLF format in 2022. If an Elite Series angler wins it all in 2022, the best-five rules would be used in 2023. You get the gist.
Like I said... is it perfect? No. Nothing in this dream scenario is perfect and I'm sure I'm overlooking a lot of details. But wouldn't this be pretty cool?
Where is the tournament held?
Based on social media comments over the past few years, I do think a lot of professional bass fishing fans are getting tired of seeing events at the same lakes year after year. There is a lot that goes into which fisheries and cities get to host these events but again, in our little dream world, let's imagine this event could be held anywhere.
I say the tournament goes to Clear Lake in California so fishing fans can see a bunch of giant bass weighed. No only is it arguably the best lake in the country but it would also excite a bunch of the west-coast fans who are so often disappointed by the professional tournament schedules omitting their region.
Remember the 2007 Elite Series Golden State Shootout at Clear Lake? Steve Kennedy weighed more than 122 pounds on a big swimbait to take home $100,000. I'd be more than willing to bet that it's the most-watched tournament in the history of bass fishing in regards to online views. I can't tell you how many times I've replayed that tournament in my shop while I'm rigging up tackle.
If we're going to do a legit world championship, let's not play the World Series on a little league field. I want to see the best eight anglers on an absolute hammer lake catching giants. Think of how much that could potentially grow our sport. Some little kid is scrolling through the channels on Saturday morning and sees guys cranking on 6- and 8-pounders? That'll certainly attract some eyeballs.
When would the tournament be?
Two primary times of year stand out in my brain when it comes to this. Of course, my first choice would be the early prespawn period so these bass can be caught and safely displayed at their heaviest. But with both the Classic and REDCREST championships targeting this timeframe each year, I don't know how willing both sides would be to change. If I'm guessing, they wouldn't.
So maybe we're looking at an early summer or late spring event. I'm well aware that wouldn't work with each league's current schedules, but it would be pretty sweet to see this hypothetical tournament take place right when those big bass head offshore.
As the title of this article states, we'll probably never get the pleasure or excitement of seeing something like this. I hate to say it but I just feel like both parties are simply too far apart right now. But man, think about how cool it would be for fans and how much exposure both organizations could get from this. Maybe one day it will happen, but for now, a guy can dream.