Major League Fishing pros are accustomed to fans on the water, but fans should keep their distance for safety and so they do not disrupt the water the pro intends to fish.

In any form of competition there is always pressure, but maybe not quite as much in tournament bass fishing. Traditionally, with competitors scattered out and not knowing what others are doing, a fisherman really spends much of the day competing against himself and the clock.

Enter Major League Fishing’s Pro Tour and a format that is more like a professional golf tournament in that fishermen are constantly updated on what everyone else around the lake is doing in real time.

MLF comes to Lake Palestine Feb. 21-25 for its Redcrest tournament, the pro tour’s top event. The $791,000 tournament was to have been held at Oklahoma’s Grand Lake of the Cherokees, but was moved to East Texas when an extravaganza scheduled along with the tournament was canceled because of COVID-19.

Like all MLF tournaments the format for the 40-man Redcrest event is catch and release with every bass over 2 pounds being scored. An official is onboard with each pro to weigh and digitally record the fish.

Whether sitting among the leaders or trying to come from behind, the constant updates do add to the pressure.

“It is unlike anything anyone has ever experienced as far as pressure. Anytime someone catches a fish you are aware of it. You know if you are doing good or bad. I can’t explain the pressure,” said Jeff Sprague, who qualified for the Redcrest for the second time.

Sprague, who grew up in Wills Point and currently lives in Point, has to be considered the hometown favorite having lived in Tyler while working for the Smith County Sheriff’s office 20 years ago. However, during his time here his experience on Lake Palestine was more as a duck hunter than fisherman.

Sprague said everyone uses the scoreboard differently. Through much of the day he prefers nothing more than the mandated 15 minutes updates. However, early in the day he wants more updates so he knows when the bite starts around the lake. If he is scrambling for a qualify spot in a round he might want more later in the day as well.

The problem with too frequent updates is that it can cause paralysis by analysis. The pros know their competitor’s strengths and the tendency is to think if they are catching a lot of fish they are using their best technique. Sprague said too often that is not the case, and if you become influenced by what you think someone else is doing it might cost you.

While fishermen in most tournament know when they are not having a good day, the scoreboard can amplify that. But with every 2-pound fish counting it can also boost confidence.

“It goes both ways. You never want to say you are out of it because I know how fast you can get back in it. You are never out of it. But there are times you know it just wasn’t my day,” Sprague said.

Sprague, who has earned $559,000 since joining MLF in its inaugural season three years ago after fishing the FLW Tour for five years, said it really is not surprising there is no local advantage in the pro ranks. At the top level the pros are so good they can dissect new waters quickly and may see things that someone accustomed to fishing a lake does not.

“When a guy fishes his home lake he is fishing history. Often you rule out things where you never caught fish before or maybe a place fished once. When a guy comes onto a new body of water with fresh eyes, he never knew you never caught fish down the lake,” Sprague said.

Without that history Sprague said the pros will fish water temperature, color and cover. That allows them to fish patterns instead of areas.

In practices rounds since Palestine was named the tournament site Sprague said he has already found a number of changes from what he remembered the last time fishing the lake.

The Redcrest event will be hosted out of The Villages. The format will include all 40 fishermen competing the first two days before a cutdown to 20. Ten of those will fish the third day and the others the fourth day. The top five from each of those days will participate in the championship round with all weights zeroed starting the day. The winner will take home $300,000.

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