By Steve Graf
If there’s one thing that’s becoming apparent, it’s the impact the FLW (Forest L. Wood, founder of Ranger Boats) organization had on the bass fishing landscape. Today we’ll look at what made FLW so special and helped lay the ground swelling that occurred during the 1990’s up till now. FLW made bass fishing more popular than ever before with their approach and commitment to sponsors who were not really associated with the outdoors. Let’s first start with what it was like to fish tournaments in the 1990’s.
Tournaments back then were events, or usually benefits, for someone or something. Most of these were annual events that drew anywhere from 40 to 60 boats. There were only a couple of high-level fishing circuits like B.A.S.S. and the Red Man Tournament Trail (which was one step below B.A.S.S.). Available too, were Fishers of Men, and a few American Bass Angler (ABA) events. Another pro/am circuit, known as Angler’s Choice, was also a popular tour and even had a team trail you could follow. Then there was the FLW tournament trail that was making headway and growing in popularity at a rapid rate.
Of all these organizations I’ve mentioned, FLW was the one that changed the landscape in the late 90’s and has led us to where we are today. For years, B.A.S.S. (The Bassmaster Elite Series) was, and still is, THE place and the goal of every angler in America. They set the standard that all tournament organizations wanted to be and FLW opened the door and gave anglers another option to pursue their dreams of fishing professionally. FLW took sponsors to a whole other level with boat and truck wraps of major sponsors like Wal-Mart, Land of Lakes, Castrol Oil, Tide, M&M’s, Kellogg’s Cereal, and Folgers Coffee, to name a few. They brought in sponsors that were not necessarily associated with the outdoors and promoted them the same way NASCAR did it.
This was probably the best thing that ever happened for professional bass fishing! FLW decided to attack and establish a grass roots following by setting up a progression of tournament trails. That ladder started with the BFL’s (Bass Fishing League), a series of one-day events all across the country, designed as pro/am events for the working man or weekend warrior. If you did well on that level, you could then advance to fish a multi-day tournament trail called the Everstart Series which was similar to the B.A.S.S. Open Series. Then after this, if you were really good, there was the FLW Series, which was one step below fishing as a full-time pro. Success in that series would lead anglers to the pinnacle of the organization…. the FLW Tour.
With their approach, FLW had created an avenue for amateur anglers to pursue their dreams of fishing as a professional. The awesome boat and truck wraps drew visual attention and made it cool to be a bass angler. It invigorated young boys and girls to want to be a pro angler. FLW then started the College Series that caught fire nationwide as colleges and universities created fishing teams and some even offered scholarships. Then they went even further and started high school bass fishing which has gone viral and insured that there will be future generations to pursue a career as a professional bass fisherman.
The sad part of all of this is that FLW no longer exists, as Major League Fishing (MLF) purchased FLW in 2020. This was sad to see, as I personally had fished several levels with FLW and enjoyed all of them. The downfall of FLW was poor financial management. Anglers also started to figure out the payback for their events was not up to par with other organizations. Entry fees went up and the payback for certain tournaments was less than 60 percent. MLF is trying to re-establish these tours once again, but the payback is still an issue, especially for the BFL tour which has the lowest payback of any tournament trail of this level. Hopefully, the powers that be at MLF will recognize this and correct it because we will always need at least two major fishing organizations that give anglers an option. Remember, competition between organizations makes everything better for all anglers. Till next time, good luck, good fishing and don’t forget to set the hook!!!