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Major League Fishing is about to become the premier presence in bass tournament fishing.

Backed prominently by Johnny Morris and Bass Pro Shops, Major League Fishing was formed in 2011. It's a progressive approach to the sport of professional bass fishing in which anglers can follow each other's performance on the water in real time.

According to Wired2Fish.com, Major League Fishing has been The Outdoor Channel's top-rated program in first quarters for three consecutive years in Nielsen ratings.

The traditional model of tournament fishing involves anglers transporting the five biggest bass they catch in a day to a weigh-in site. On a really good day, this involves culling a lot of small fish in an attempt to amass weight.

In Major League Fishing, every bass that's 1 pound or heavier counts.

An intrinsic weakness of traditional tournament fishing is the potential damage it inflicts on fish, especially in warm weather. Most fish are released alive, but delayed mortality is a nagging and legitimate criticism.

Routine practices such as swinging fish aboard boats and letting them flop around on boat carpet makes many spectators and anglers uncomfortable because of potential damage to the health of fish.

In Major League Fishing, a tournament day is divided into three 150-minute periods separated by 30-minute breaks. The breaks give anglers a chance to take a breath and adjust strategies or adapt to changing conditions.

Each boat has an official that is in direct contact with a main official. All anglers begin fishing at precisely the same time when boat officials give the "line in" command.

There is a shot clock, so to speak, at the end of each period. The boat official gives minute-by-minute warnings starting at five minutes before the end of a period. When the officials give a "line out" command, lines must be out of the water. A catch at the "buzzer" does not count if the fish is outside the boat's gunnel.

Anglers incur penalties for mishandling fish, including allowing a fish to contact carpet. Also, a fish may not contact any part of the boat above the gunnels. An angler cannot allow a fish to touch any part of his or her body besides the hands or forearms.

An angler also must release a fish carefully below the gunnel. There are penalties for tossing or flinging a fish.

Again, anglers are credited for every fish they catch weighing 1 or more pounds. The boat official weighs the bass at the time of catch and releases it immediately. Only briefly is a fish out of its native environment. No longer do anglers hoist two big bass in front of cameras and fans for a minute or more before walking it back to a live-release tank.

Pro anglers like the Major League Fishing format because it is closer to a pure fishing format.

Sponsors like the format, and their money is migrating over to the new tour as well. With their blessing, some of the biggest names on the Bassmaster Elite Series Tour and the FLW Tour have committed to fish the Major League Fishing Pro Tour in 2019. They include Timmy Horton, Brent Ehrler and former Bassmaster Classic champions Mark Davis of Mt. Ida, Edwin Evers, Casey Ashley, Cliff Pace, Takahiro Omori, Paul Elias, Boyd Duckett, Skeet Reese Chris Lane, Alton Jones, Kevin VanDam and Jordan Lee.

VanDam and Lee are the most surprising migrants. VanDam, a four-time Classic champion and bass fishing's all-time money winner, is essentially the face of the sport. Lee won the 2017-18 Classics and appeared to be VanDam's heir apparent.

Stephen Browning of Hot Springs and Mike McClelland of Bella Vista will fish the 2019 Major League Fishing Pro Tour, as well.

FLW also lost some of its biggest names, especially Andy Morgan and Scott Suggs of Bryant, and Mark Rose of West Memphis. Morgan, nicknamed G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time), is FLW's biggest star. Suggs, of course, was the first angler to win $1 million in a bass tournament, at the 2007 Forrest Wood Cup in Hot Springs, and only one of two anglers to accomplish that feat.

At the end of September, BASS and Major League Fishing were on the cusp of a partnership that would have become the dominant force in the sport. Browning said that the agreement unraveled at the eleventh hour, and the migration of BASS and FLW anglers to Major League Fishing ensued.

Sports on 10/07/2018

Print Headline: Major League Fishing casts net for top anglers

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