In response to a scheduling change to the FLW Championship that conflicts with traditional CITGO Bassmaster Classic dates, BASS officials have responded by calling the move damaging to the sport of professional bass fishing.
"Late Friday, BASS was shocked and very disappointed to learn that the FLW Tour did a great disservice to the angling community by changing the dates of their season-ending tournament to July 28-31 from their originally announced dates of Sept. 8-11," said Dean Kessel, Vice President and General Manager of BASS.
"Their new dates are now in direct conflict with the dates of the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Classic."
Over the past decade, BASS has held the Classic in the last week of July or first week of August and will do so again in 2004. Moving next year's Classic from July 30-Aug. 1 is not possible. The location for the 2004 Classic has not been announced.
"Historically, BASS has sought to avoid these kinds of schedule conflicts whenever possible. We have done this to allow anglers the option to fish more events and have a better chance to make a living," Kessel said Monday.
"We hoped the organizers of the other tour would work with us to accommodate the anglers, but past practice and their latest decision make it clear to BASS that they are not focused on that goal.
"Upon hearing of the schedule change, the BASS tournament department immediately contacted officials at the FLW Tour last Friday and asked them to reconsider their date change. They declined to do so.
"I have already read news accounts about possible reasons for this change. While I can think of many motivations for their actions, clearly they do not represent what is best for the anglers and the sport of bass fishing. Based on the history of the Classic, it is also very hard to believe that the FLW Tour organizers were not aware of the conflict.
"It is very unfortunate that the FLW Tour has now forced some of the world's best bass anglers to make a choice.
"The FLW Tour's decision will have a negligible impact on the 34th CITGO Bassmaster Classic. It is not a positive development for the participants or the sport."
BASS anglers' responses to FLW schedule change
Angler reaction to the FLW's announcement that its season-ending tournament will now coincide with the Classic:
Jay Yelas, Texas: "I will not be fishing FLW next year."
"BASS has gone the extra mile to help anglers fish both tours if they want to, and the anglers appreciate that."
"BASS has more to offer long term for anglers, career-wise as far as endorsement opportunities. To build a long-term career as a bass fisherman, you have a lot better chance doing that fishing BASS than FLW and that's why I choose to fish with BASS. It gives me a better chance to make a living as a pro fisherman."
Davy Hite, South Carolina: "I won both the FLW Championship and the Bassmaster Classic and I can tell you that there is no comparison."
"When I won the FLW Championship, I got $250,000 and that was all it did for my career. When I won the Bassmaster Classic, it changed my life. Whenever I'm introduced now, it is Davy Hite, Bassmaster Classic Champion and two-time Angler of the Year."
"Winning the Bassmaster Classic opens up all the doors in the world for potential sponsorships."
"The Bassmaster Classic is THE World Championship of competitive fishing."
Marty Stone, North Carolina: "My first reaction is that of total disappointment. I'm totally disappointed for the fishermen's sake. I had already made my decision, but my fellow fisherman now have to make a choice."
"It is a sad day in bass fishing. What is this going to do to the industry?"
"BASS is more fan-friendly and a more fan-friendly-oriented organization."
"I know how hard BASS has worked not to schedule on top of the FLW Tour."
Denny Brauer, Missouri: "I'm shocked. This is not good for the fans, the media or the anglers."
"The Classic is THE show. The Classic is the Granddaddy and those dates should be respected by everyone."
"It's going to be tough for the industry sponsors."
"I'm sorry for the anglers who qualify for both series and have the decision to make."
"There's no comparison when you consider what it does for your career. You have to look at it from a career standpoint."
"If you're going to do this for a long time, you have to be careful where you fish."
Gary Klein, Texas: "I don't know how to put things into words. My loyalty is with BASS. It always has been and always will be."
"This is a great opportunity for me to just get my deposits back (from FLW) and bow out, because why fish if I can't make the championship?"
"It would be a shame that a professional angler that has supported both circuits has to be put in a position to make a choice."