Jeff Sprague

Jeff Sprague is one of the Texas anglers currently competing in the Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour General Tire Stage Three Presented by TrueTimber tournament on Lake Fork. The tournament’s final round is Wednesday on Lake Athens.

David realized if he was going to take down Goliath it might be a good idea to carry along a large rock. When Major League Fishing went out to topple the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society it tried to carry as much of the quarry as possible.

Since 1967 BASS has been the standard-bearer for professional bass fishing. It elevated tournament fishing from a local event to the national level, making heroes out of the best of the best fishermen and lakes. Its impact on fishing, whether it was tackle, boats or techniques, cannot be argued.

The question today is whether BASS or Major League Fishing is now the more prestigious of the two.

Started just a year ago MLF’s Pro Tour got an immediate credibility boost by signing some of the top names in tournament fishing away from BASS. Its lineup includes names like Kevin VanDam, Ott DeFoe, Jacob Wheeler, Aaron Martens, Alton Jones, Shaw Grigsby, Todd Faircloth and Mike Iaconelli to name a few.

The brainchild of tournament anglers Gary Klein and Boyd Duckett, MLF’s format of catch-and-release fishing with every catch over two pounds counting was designed for fishermen by fishermen.

That alone was not going to tilt the playing field in favor of MLF. That might come by taking a traditional activity and moving it into the digital age with fans offered real-time access to events as well as traditional follow-up television coverage, and not of just select events, but all of them.

“We are at the start of our second season,” Klein recently said. “We are young, but all indications are we are getting it right. Our live streaming numbers are phenomenal.”

The MLF’s Pro Tour is currently on a swing through East Texas for the General Tire Stage Three Presented by TrueTimber, with five days of competition on Lake Fork before moving to Lake Athens for the tournament championship Wednesday.

The MLF plan seems to have worked. After the first year there were really only two major changes. Brandon Palaniuk and Gerald Swindle decided to return to BASS, replaced by Bryan Thrift and David Dudley. Probably more noticeable by the public was a change to allow only bass two pounds and larger to count instead of one pounders. That came following comments from the public.

MLF from the beginning has thrown in new wrinkles like a tournament being held on two lakes and a trailer rule that allows fishermen to launch from safer locations in case of bad weather.

“Our team has worked tirelessly in offseason. What we have done is looked at the overall picture. Where we are today, from the conversation Boyd and I had in a parking lot, is we haven’t wavered off our goal. Are we there yet? No. Are we headed down that path? Yes,” Klein said.

The Texan added they knew they were rocking the boat by creating a fishing league in which every catch counted, regular tournaments were really three tournaments in one and success in those tournaments translated into even more chance of success in special events like its Redcrest tournament, Cup events and its World Championship.

“The format is very fast paced and in your face. What you don’t have is the complacency of a five-fish limit. You can’t just go out and cast a Carolina rig and catch 18 pounds and be confident,” Klein said.

Probably the best comparison in the sports world would be the PGA tour where tournament wins are important, but that success opens doors to select events, world competition and a lucrative world championship.

To lure fishermen into signing a three-year contract with MLF the organization threw out $5 million in prize earnings and the chance to compete events with no entry fee.

“Creating a league out of the sport of bass fishing, we knew would be disruptive to the status quo industry. That is what occurred last season. We created a new path with competitive angling,” Klein said.

Thanks to the plan, and a big part because of its digital and broadcast success, MLF has attracted more than 50 non-fishing industry sponsors. That is especially important because of all the consolidation of fishing tackle, sporting goods stores and boat manufacturers in recent years.

Even the broadcasting of some of its events are unconventional, show up Discovery channel along with the Outdoor Channel. Klein said MLF events were the highest ranked Discovery network show and that a recent CBS network documentary on MLF drew record viewer numbers for its type of programing.

The organization’s catch-and-release rule does not make for an exciting weigh-in, but it does lend itself to faster action and reduces the stigma of the impact of big tournaments on a lake. It also allows the fishermen to fish from whistle to whistle without having to time a ride back to the ramp to make the weigh-in.

“Our format is very conservation minded. That is part of the format we created with the competitors in mind. We continue to use these resources and we want to manage them,” Klein said.

For more information on the tournament, go online to www.majorleaguefishing.com.

TWITTER: @BrandonOSports

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