For those who enjoy fishing, and who like to view intense competition that showcases a broad range of exciting personalities, look no further than Major League Fishing.
Major League Fishing, headquartered in Tulsa, was formed in 2011 but just recently consolidated to include all of the best bass anglers in the world to truly become the home of the highest level of competitive fishing.
The MLF Bass Pro Tour held the seventh of its eight-stage season at the scenic waters of beautiful Grand Lake in Grove, about 90 miles northeast of Tulsa (May 31-June 5). The 2019 tour wraps up Aug. 21-25 in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Boyd Duckett, one of the MLF’s founders and still a competitive angler himself, was happy to be nearby for the event.
“Eastern Oklahoma is a super bass fishing center, tons of fans, tons of great water, and Tulsa has always been a great venue for big events,” says Duckett, the 2007 Bassmaster Classic Champion. “Grand Lake in June is tremendous.”
One thing that makes the MLF so refreshing and unique compared to what came before is the access fans have to the action. They livestream all of their events on majorleaguefishing.com, with cameras on just about every angler’s boat, so people can see how the competition unfolds in real time, including how the fishermen react to catching fish, how they reel them in, how they respond to adversity, and more.
The competition format is also a nice change from previous rules. There is an MLF official on each boat, and once the fish is caught, it is weighed immediately, counted in the updated standings and released back into the water. The official can also impose penalties, if necessary, based on how the angler gets the fish into the boat and that is also captured in real time on camera. The result is a compelling drama that showcases the different characters involved in the sport.
“Having fished a long career in bass fishing, one of the things that were noticeable was that the sport was kind of stagnant,” Duckett says of the inspiration for creating MLF. “My belief, which created the inception of Major League Fishing, was the fact that we needed something televised that was a lot more exciting and more fun, that people who maybe didn’t fish could enjoy, as well as people who competitively fish. That’s what created the new format where every fish counts. The other leagues weigh five fish.
“And of course one of the worst things about our sport were these weigh-ins. We would keep the fish all day, and then we’d weigh them at the end of the day, and it wasn’t exhilarating, because like other sports, the game is played on the field and it ends with a winner, and it was just goofy. It was not what it should be. We’re much more aligned with other professional sports now in the sense that our game plays out completely on the water.”
A big key to realizing the vision that Duckett and several of his fellow competitive anglers (such as Gary Klein, Skeet Reese, Kevin VanDam) had when forming MLF was securing the screen time necessary to spotlight everything. They became partners with KSE (Kroenke Sports and Entertainment), which owns World Fishing Network, Sportsman Channel and the Outdoor Channel, while also buying air time on CBS, which will run an episodic series on the season. And while the individual events are live-streamed on their website, they also air a two-hour edited version for each stage on Discovery.
“Some of the big, big differences of Major League Fishing and whatever’s happened in the past is simply the investment in the media platform,” Duckett says. “We have invested tens of millions of dollars in media, and that’s never happened for the sport of bass fishing, and we’re hitting the ratings. We’re hitting the ratings on Discovery, but also our network ratings are great, and our more correct demographic with Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel, we kill it there. And even our streaming, we’ve got excellent streaming views.”
While Major League Fishing did well from its inception in 2011, it wasn’t until this current season that they became the undisputed, highest level of fishing.
“The Bass Pro Tour, we had ways to qualify in from other tours, but all that ended when Major League Fishing became the so-to-speak highest level,” Duckett says. “We arguably drew the 80 top anglers from the other leagues to form Major League Fishing, so it’s the top guys.
“It’s awesome, the big expansion, adding the Bass Pro Tour to what we already had. It’s been quite a challenge, but it’s going well, and all the anglers are pleased with the way it’s going. We’re getting lots of media coverage, which matters to us because we sell our sponsorship — as NASCAR would. We make our money on our sponsors.”
Out of 80 anglers on the Tour, the top 30 at the end of the season qualify for the REDCREST Bass Pro Tour Championship event. Each stage awards points based on where the anglers finish in that event.
Duckett acknowledges it can be difficult competing while also being involved in the business aspect of the tour.
“It’s quite a challenge to do both, I got to admit,” says Duckett, who placed third in Stage 2 at Conroe, Texas (Feb. 12-17,) but also 76th in Stage 4 at Dayton, Tennessee (April 9-14). “I try to go to the events and compartmentalize so that I stay submerged in the competition during that week. And the rest of the time, I got my business hat on, and my fishing hat at the events. I do the best I can.”
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