Professional angler Mark Davis enjoyed a distinguished career with BASS before leaving the circuit in 2006 to fish the FLW Tour. Now it appears that Davis may be ready to write a new chapter in his BASS history.
Davis, 43, a long-time Bassmaster angler who left the circuit after the 2005 season, is contemplating a return to BASS competition next year. He recently qualified for the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series by finishing fourth in the Bassmaster Southern Open points race.
His conundrum is that he has also qualified for next year's FLW Tour, the circuit he has fished the past two seasons, and he can't fish both tours next year.
"There's no way to do both," Davis said. "It's pretty near physically impossible."
It's decision time, and although he isn't ready to say for sure which tour he'll fish, Davis tells ESPNOutdoors.com that he's "leaning toward BASS" and that there's a "good chance" that next year he'll be back on the tour where he spent the first two decades of his professional fishing career.
"It's largely a case of my sponsors pushing me that way," Davis said. "Most of them want me back over at BASS, and to make a living in this sport, you have to adhere to your sponsors' wishes."
Davis has paid deposits on next year's entry fees for both tours.
"I haven't come to a solid decision," Davis said. "Options are always a good thing."
Davis, who said he'll probably make a final decision in 30-45 days, left BASS in 2005 as one of the circuit's most successful anglers. In two decades of BASS competition, Davis amassed more than $1 million in career winnings and took the circuit's prestigious Angler of the Year title three times.
He won the 1995 Bassmaster Classic, becoming the first and only angler to win the AOY title and the Classic in the same season. Davis soared to new heights in his final two BASS seasons, winning three of eight Bassmaster Elite 50 events in 2004 and 2005 and earning accolades as one of the best post-spawn anglers in the history of the sport.
Davis moved to the FLW Tour in 2006 and fished it again in 2007.
"I did not agree with the direction BASS was going with things," Davis said of his 2005 departure from the circuit. "That said, I've seen a lot of improvements … especially in the past 12 months or so."
The Elite Series' move to allow anglers to fish from their own boats on all four competition days is one such improvement, Davis said. In the past anglers used their own boats the first two days and then moved to BASS-provided sponsor boats on the final two days. The FLW Tour still requires anglers to fish from sponsor boats on the final two days.
"It's the biggest step BASS has done to improve professionalism," Davis said. "It's the single biggest step to come along in this sport in years. It helps you promote your sponsors, but it's not just about sponsor promotion. Your boat is about the most personal thing you have. You wouldn't see a race car driver run a whole race in his car and then move to a different car for the last 10 laps."
Another factor that points to a Davis move back to BASS competition is next year's schedule. For the past two years, BASS has scheduled events on productive fisheries during peak fishing times, and next year's Elite Series schedule is once again earning praise from pros and fans alike.
"Who wouldn't like the schedule?" Davis said. "I would look forward to fishing good lakes at good times of the year. It doesn't matter if it takes 10 pounds to win or 50 pounds; the best angler is going to win no matter what. But it's a lot more fun to go to a lake when they're biting."
The prospect of returning to the Bassmaster Classic is also weighing on Davis' decision.
"The Classic is always a drawing card for any angler," Davis said. "There's only one Classic."
The possibility of a Classic berth steered Davis to the 2007 Bassmaster Southern Open series in the first place. The top three anglers in the Southern Open's cumulative points standings earned Classic berths. Davis finished fourth and narrowly missed the 2008 Classic.
"I fished the Opens because of the chance to make the Classic," Davis said. "I really wanted to make the Classic, but unfortunately I came up a few points short."
There's also Davis' emotional attachment to the BASS circuit to consider.
"Any time you put 20 years of your life into one organization," Davis said, "you can't help but miss them when you leave."
While Davis seems to be leaning toward a return to Bassmaster competition next year, he insists that he hasn't yet made a final decision. His measured response to questions and positive words about both tours reveal a professional angler who isn't ready to burn bridges or alienate anyone.
"I only qualified a week ago, so I haven't had time to get all my ducks in a row," he said. "It's going to depend on my sponsors and sponsorship opportunities. It's hard to declare this early."