In my 30-plus years as a full-time professional angler, myself and other veterans have never remotely seen the changes we witnessed in this sport in 2019.
While we can debate the entire MLF impact on the energy, perception and future of professional angling, one fact remains true and always will … B.A.S.S. is the name synonymous with professional bass fishing, and it always will be.
I say this because I’ve lived through it to know. From 1986-2006, I competed on the Bassmaster Tournament trail, qualifying for nine Bassmasters Classics and winning two Top 100/150 events.
During that time, I was one of the few B.A.S.S. anglers to compete simultaneously on the FLW tour as well. This gave me the opportunity to experience the realities of both tours on an intimate level.
One of the truths of this sport is the decisions you make affect your entire career — both on and off the water.
In my own case, in 2006 I declined my Bassmaster Elite Series invitation to stay with FLW.
This decision was completely based on a title sponsor alignment with FLW that was simply impossible to give up for myself and several other two-tour pros at the time.
Intuitively, I felt this was a mistake, especially after competing both years in the B.A.S.S. Elite 50 events, which in my opinion were the best bass fishing tournaments ever held.
Never discount intuition in this sport or life. Once you learn to trust it and discern what is real intuition vs. mental clutter, it rarely will fail you.
In retrospect, turning down my Elite Series invitation was a huge career mistake. But then again, we all know hindsight is 20/20.
FLW, which was at the height of their success in 2006, began to lose marquee anglers, sponsors and media focus, while the Bassmaster Elite Series and their angler brands grew stronger each year.
As a result of the recent MLF/FLW takeover, I ended my 22-year FLW career last month. I will move forward the remainder of my career by returning to my B.A.S.S. roots and competing in both Bassmaster Opens divisions.
One thing is for sure in 2020 … qualifying for the Elite Series via the Opens is going to be the most challenging initiative any angler can undertake. Regardless of your skill level, achieving this feat will take a career-type year on the water. The 2021 Elite Series qualifiers will have earned it like never before.
The huge 2020 Open field is comprised of Elite Series anglers, former FLW guns and regional hammers. To secure a spot in the AOY top four will require each Open event to be fished flawlessly each day of competition. You won’t be able to have even one bad day on the water and qualify.
Given this format, there are no guarantees for any of the Opens anglers. Others or I may qualify our first year, or we may never qualify … you just never know.
But one fact will never change. Being back with B.A.S.S. and making the commitment to the organization that was responsible for me manifesting my childhood dream of fishing professionally into physical form feels like the best decision I’ve made in my entire career.
I’ll keep everyone updated on this adventure as it unfolds.