Over the past few weeks the world of professional bass fishing has experienced more change than at any other time during my 11-year career. As a result, the Bassmaster Elite Series field will look different than what you saw in 2018, with many familiar faces gone. They all have their own reasons, which I completely respect, and I wish them all the best.
My purpose in writing this column is to make clear that there has never been as much opportunity in our sport as there is today, and there will be more going forward. With the opportunities that B.A.S.S. has outlined for those of us who will be returning, I expect that within a few years the Elites will feature the strongest field ever.
I think I come at this from a balanced perspective. I competed on the FLW Tour in the earliest portion of my career before joining the Elite Series in 2011. I’ve also participated in MLF competition. The three circuits are all really different, and they’re all important to our sport.
As an ultra-competitive person, I want to go head to head with the best anglers in the world. I’m sure the rest of the pros do, too. When we launch at the St. Johns in February for the first Elite Series event, it will be strange to realize that some of the guys I love competing against won’t be there anymore, but that’s the nature of life – change represents new opportunities and new challenges. For some people who fish for a living, it’s just a job, but to me it’s more than a career. I could probably make a decent living doing something else, but this is what I love to do.
I’ve had my share of success in recent years, but a decade ago I might not have been on your radar. Five years ago, few of you had heard of Seth Feider, but now he’s a household name in our world. The winner at the St. Johns might be someone who fishing fans don’t recognize today. The bottom line is that there will always be new, hungry bass anglers ready to try to displace their idols. Our sport may have a longer career horizon than baseball or basketball or football, but the basic dynamic is the same – there’s always somebody who wants your job – so while some people say that 2019 will be a “rebuilding” year, I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly new superstars are discovered or created.
The new owners at B.A.S.S. are not investing their valuable time and money in order to have it fail. They’re as competitive as any pro angler, and those who are predicting a doomsday scenario are likely to be surprised. With a smaller field and lots of money at stake, expect the competition to be fierce, even if some of the names are less recognizable. It won’t be the 2018 group, but it will be a deep field of anglers, some of whom have always had the skill but have waited for the right economic opportunity to arise in order to make the leap. Some people have asked me if I expect to “clean up” against the newcomers, and I repeatedly caution them not to underestimate the depth of the field.
All of this is going to be great for the fans, too. With my busy schedule, I still enjoy watching TV or Bassmaster LIVE to get better at my game. I’m sure that many of you do as well. You’re going to get more of that, and more unfiltered information than ever before. On top of that, B.A.S.S. listened to the anglers and built a schedule that is like the early days of the Elite Series, heading to the best lakes at the best times, so if you like to see some big fish catches this will be the place to be.
To answer the obvious question, no one pressured me or incentivized me to write this column. There have been lots of rumors swirling around, and I wanted to make my feelings 100 percent clear. I’ve worked exceptionally hard to get where I am, and I’m proud of that fact. All of the tours can expect to have excellent anglers among them next year and for the foreseeable future. I just think that my best option, given my fishing style and my loyal group of sponsors, was to stay with the tour that started it all.
The future is bright for professional bass fishing. Here in Texas, we have 500-boat high school tournaments, and B.A.S.S. has been very supportive of those efforts, providing the next generation with opportunities to move up the ladder at their own pace. If you really want to see competitiveness, come out to my Sam Rayburn Slam this Saturday, an open team event with various youth prizes as well. Our primary purpose is to raise funds for Warriors Weekend, but I guarantee you the weekend anglers who typically fill the field will pull no punches in their efforts to claim the top prize.