Maybe you haven’t heard, but there is an FLW Series tournament this week. Yep, California Delta, big prizes, big names (at least a few.) If you haven’t heard, that’s okay because there has been about as much buzz on this as wounded housefly.

So you know, this morning (Wednesday) they sent out 89 pros and their co-anglers, raising the average pro attendance for three of the four scheduled events to ninety-five. That’s 95 skilled and competitive-minded anglers, each paying $4000 per event in entry fees. Unfortunately, a full field at one of these shindigs is 150 pros. By my calculations, in order to average a “full field” for the year, FLW is going to have to draw 305 boats at Clear Lake next month–and I’m sure they’ll take your credit card number.

And yet, the cause of these shortfalls seems to elude analysis. Terry Battisti produced one of the best-written and most comprehensive series for Inside Line on the lack of participation in the West, including candid interviews and cost charts that would make the Dean of Business proud.

And yet, for all the effort, I don’t think anything but fringe considerations were covered. The question is not why are there low turnouts, but really who are the participants you were expecting?

Isn’t a high risk/reward tour a competitive forum for professionals to ply their craft, earn a living and stimulate the fishing industry? I think so. And that means it’s not a four-times a year clearance sale where they have to advertise “specials” to get customers to show up. A pro circuit is not the venue for dabblers.

When it’s your profession (pay being irrelevant) you show up for work, you don’t wait for an invitation. And if there is a better job somewhere, you don’t quit yours until you’re sure you’ve got the new one.

That is the core issue. But let’s look at some of the things that get all the blame. The economy is a popular scapegoat. Yes it’s tough. Whether you’re a middle manager, boxboy, house painter, dog walker, bass columnist or whatever, every day can be a struggle. But if that’s what you do, you do it. In bass fishing, the industry may lay off pro-staffers, but nobody lays off a pro fisherman.

How good was the economy when a then single Gary Klein left Oroville to fish with the Bassmasters? How sure was the future when Jay and Jill Yelas left town to live in their van so Jay could pursue a pro career? The prizes and exposure then were nothing like they are today. Isn’t it much more about commitment to a career course?

The blame game also includes scheduling. But how can that be? If you fish for a living, how can having a date and place to make that living be a problem? Poor fishing? Same for everybody. Can’t prefish? Plan your schedule better. Sudden venue change? You’re a pro, deal with it just like you would a flat tire, late sponsor check or blown lower unit. It’s part of the job.

Tournament location has also been blamed and now you’ve got me tweaked. You mean we want to geographically compress the circuit so much so that we have to recognize a new “best in zip code” cadre of anglers? I thought we already went through that.

But there is only one core reason why attendance is lowest at the highest level of professional bass fishing in the West and that’s a dearth of players.  Gary Dobyns may have voiced (as quoted in the Battisti series) that, “We have plenty of anglers out here who want to fish and proved that in the beginning with full fields.”

I disagree. Let me break down the pool of “tournament” bass anglers. There are only two groups:

The first is comprised of club guys; team tournament guys; co-angler guys; guys who think they would like to fish the circuit; guys who can’t afford to fish the circuit; guys who don’t have the time off to fish the circuit; guys who can’t afford a new or reliable boat; guys who lost their sponsor(s); guys who have other jobs (that’s “95 percent” according to Dobyns); guys whose personal situations are different than they were back in 1997; and I guess I can even throw in dead guys.

None of this group is going on tour!

By deduction, then, the balance of the pro ranks are only those committed and able to pursue a pro circuit without undue regard to expenses, schedule, location (wind direction, sign of the Zodiac, number of Facebook friends, etc).

I don’t know exactly how many that is, but what I do know is you can’t fill a 150 boat tournament circuit with only a 100 guys. And that’s why FLW (Series West) will follow B.A.S.S right out the exit doors.


10 Responses to “FLW limps in; major tour fishing doomed”

As always, a good read!

The hurdles to be cleared to make the leap to follow the dream get tougher and diverse. The skill and preparation on their own will not satisfy the cash flow requirements without an element of timely serendipity.
Mike Icconelli was on the verge of quitting the year before he won the Classic. The fortuitous confluence of events that became the breakthrough career enabling came down to one fish. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity. Californians, opportunity is fleeting.

Good read George. I happen to be in group #1 as described. I along with Kerr and many other talented anglers would love to “committ” and go for it, but as you say….”committed and able”; we have the players in the West but not the means to make the leap.

Tom: As you recognize, my argument is not an indictment of western fishermen, but the fact that the big organizations refuse to recognize the true size of the marketplace. To assure full fields, you almost need three times the number of committed and able anglers available in order to drive tournament attendance. I’ve watched since 1970 and a number that size has never existed. Our veteran regulars are now 50 to 70 years old and winding down and the pool of new fishermen willing to pursue a full schedule of the bigger events is not increasing nearly fast enough to make a difference.

I was born in 1970! It’s too bad because there is great talent in the West. At least we will have platforms like the WON BASS Pro AM’s next year and the Stren Series. Maybe it’s not too late. Keep the articles coming George.

by harvey naslund


You and I have had something to do with building/developing of tournament circuits over the past 35 years. And as you know,developing participation has been, and always will be the big challenge for every organization. Yes, we had some great numbers from time to time (if I recall about 224 pros at Clearlake in l988 or so). Having said that, we also were careful about the committment required on the part of the contestant to participate. Had the entry fees for Clearlake at that time been $500 or so, we likely wouldn’t have drawn more than 100 boats (if that). Everything is relevant. WON Bass just came off a 112 boat Open, which for the committment required ($1600 ? ? ) on the part of the pro, was a reasonably good turnout for a well run event. Now jump to the Delta, with FLW which carried an entry fee of $4000 for the pro player. Eighty-nine boats. That’s not a bad turn-out for a huge entry fee event. Think of this, the FLW entry fee was 40X what we charged during the l980s for a pro event and 20X what we charged during the l990’s for a pro circuit entry fee. The bulk of the at-large tournament fishermen market in the west is comprised of young working class with family committments. How many could come home and explain to their wives that she needed to make out a check for $4,000 for a bass tournament? Very few today, tomorrow and forever. And yes, I understand that in the Southern States they draw much bigger fields, but in those states there is a bass boat and half in every garage. In California there isn’t a bass boat for every 10,000 garages. It is my guess, the as long as the advertising and promotional support keeps coming, FLW will be in this territory for a long time. They will likely reduce the entry fees for the Pro during the coming year to generate more players. But my guess the FLW circuit will be around for some time.

The old definition of “Professional Bass Fisherman” was any one who puts up the entry fee. High entry fees have effectively eliminated the casual player. The high stakes without sponsor funding, demonstrate the true definition to be professional: high stakes gambler.

I sure hope they stay around. I was told they will be back next year with the NG with a 2K entry fee. Not sure if the entry fee will matter but I hope it does. I know there are some that have boycotted FLW for there own reasons. I feel we need to support all the tourn circuits and work together to build the sport and the Fishing Industry. Tournament’s stimulate our fishing economy. Tournament Anglers buy Boats, Trucks, Rods and Reels Tackle, Gas etc.
If you can get off work and have the cheese to Fish these events then do it. If not stay home and Fish a local derby. Don’t bag on the folks trying to bring a good thing to those that want it.

PS: In my opinion if someone is a talented enough to be on tour then that’s where they would be. Or at least they tried and failed, then that would mean they were not talented enough, were they?

First off, congratulations to Rusty Salewske. It’s so hard to win–and he did it!

But nothing changes my opinion on the big tour. FLW bled the territory of discretionary income this year. People got hurt: their finances and their self-esteem.

A few extra souls will stick their toe in the water early next season, and then they will get blown out on their “best” waters and drop out. The reason is there are not enough serious players to take the plunge…and too much ego to stick it out and risk repeated failure.

When it comes to chasing a circuit, the West is about Stren level. It’s black and white.

Hey George,

Thanks for the kind words on the article. I must say, your analysis holds a lot of water too. There are so many reasons why anglers decide not to fish and I don’t think we’ll ever know all of them. I have my reasons (which is why I didn’t want to voice my opinions) for not fishing but mine are different than everyone else. Great read and again, thanks for the kind words.