Making it to the Big Leagues

pro bass angler career path



By Sean Ostruszka

Spring 2020

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

Tour (BPT).

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.

David Dudley

Bryan Thrift

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