By Sean Ostruszka
a look at the new“farm sys
very successful professional sport needs a feeder
system. The NFL has NCAA football. Baseball has
its A-rated farm system. Soccer has innumerable clubs. All of these are designed to not just help an athlete
develop as he/she ages, but they also act as proving
grounds to separate the elite from the talented.
By purchasing FLW in October 2019, Major League
Fishing, essentially, bought its feeder system for its Bass Pro
FLW has long had the largest grassroots system of
tournaments in the sport, with events ranging from high
school to top-level anglers. This allowed anglers to naturally
move up a ladder of competition, from local to regional
to national levels. In fact, many had long joked that the
former FLW Tour was essentially a feeder system for the
Bassmaster Elite Series (and now the BPT), as many of the
Elite Series’ top talents came from FLW.
Now, with the merger and the creation of
the FLW Pro Circuit, anglers, in theory,
have a clear-cut path to the BPT.
Yet, as great as it sounds to have an opportunity to qualify for, arguably, the highest-profile tournament series in the sport, the ramifications of the merger have caused quite the stir in the sport.
Bryan Thrift and David Dudley – two of FLW’s best – immediately bumped up to the BPT when Gerald Swindle and Brandon Palaniuk both opted to switch back to the Elite Series after one year on the BPT. Meanwhile, Buddy Gross switched from FLW to the Elite Series, and John Cox will attempt to fish both the Elite Series and Pro Circuit. And then there were top-level pros like Scott Martin, Brian Latimer and Andrew Upshaw who all declined invites to the Pro Circuit to fish the lower-level BASS Opens in attempts to qualify for the Elite Series.
In the wake of everything, there’s a significant mix of excitement, optimism, pessimism and concern due to the uncertain nature of the long-term ramifications of the merger, particularly the different formats of the BPT and FLW events.