Bass Wars: A Preface

If you’re interested in competitive bass fishing at the highest level, you’re aware that there’s a lot of turmoil in that industry right now. B.A.S.S. (the membership organization that operates the Bassmaster Elite Series and Bassmaster Classic) and — to a lesser degree — Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) with its Forrest Wood Cup are being challenged by Major League Fishing and the newly-announced Bass Pro Tour sponsored by Bass Pro Shops.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about this story in the past few weeks, often as a guest on podcasts or radio programs, but I haven’t had a lot to say about it in Fishing Tackle Retailer or on In the eyes of some, it’s been the “elephant in the room.”

There’s a reason for our not having done much on this story so far. For one thing, it’s still developing. Which pros and how many pros are leaving B.A.S.S. and FLW for the new tour is still largely unknown. Running tallies of the names are published on several websites, but that aspect of the story will be fleshed out in the next week or two. Once the final lists are available we’ll all be better able to assess the shifting dynamics. For now, it’s mostly speculation. Most of what we really know can be summed up like this: MLF and the BPT are campaigning that they are the future of the sport and invited anglers should join them on the journey. B.A.S.S. is fighting to keep its stars and spotlight through financial incentives and other concessions. FLW believes their model is solid enough that no major changes are required or will be forthcoming.

The other reason we haven’t done a lot on this story is that I do not believe it will have a major impact on the world of tackle retail … at least not for now. Whether bass fishing fans and fishing consumers follow Kevin VanDam in the pages of Bassmaster or on “Major League Fishing” probably doesn’t matter as long as the number of eyeballs is roughly the same or the influence of the media platforms balances out.

I do not believe that VanDam’s sponsors will see a major uptick in sales either way, though I could certainly be wrong. Time will tell … and the efforts of MLF to upgrade their media platforms beyond television will be a big factor in that.

But just because the story is developing and doesn’t seem it will have a huge impact on retail does not mean that I don’t find it fascinating. To the contrary, I think it’s the biggest story in the sport over the past 20 years, and I plan to give it meaningful coverage very soon … just not yet.

For now, this is a “consumer” story — as in “How will consumers get their tournament bass fishing fix?” Will they get it through B.A.S.S., as many have for 50 years? Will they get it through FLW, which brought big prize money to the sport beginning in the 1990s? Or will they get it through MLF, which has only been around since 2011, but which is certainly grabbing headlines today?

Of course, the answers need not be mutually exclusive. Fans can — and do and will — go to all these sources and find things they like about each. Many like the MLF format, appreciate the B.A.S.S. history and identify with the FLW pros. There’s a lot to like, and if you’re into pro bass fishing, you probably like it all to some degree. I expect the audience to be spread out, and I hope they are not spread so thin that one or more of the organizations suffer.

That would be the biggest news of all. Bass tournaments may be business for the top pros, but business does not play out like a bass tournament. Business tends to be a zero-sum game — like poker. If you’re going to win, I have to lose. If you get a big advertising contract from a company, it reduces the budget they have to spend with me.

And that’s the real war being fought here.