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Arkansas lately has been irrelevant in the Bassmaster Elite Series, but Stetson Blaylock of Benton has put us back in the conversation.

If Blaylock were on the New York Stock Exchange, he would be a strong "buy." In his third season on the Bassmaster Elite Series, Blaylock won his first Elite Series event in April. He has four second-place finishes, including the latest at the season finale Monday at Lake St. Clair, Mich.

He finished second in Angler-of-the-Year standings to Scott Canterbury, but only by a whisker. Canterbury amassed 848 points to Blaylock's 840. Winning Angler of the Year or the Bassmaster Classic are the two things that will turbocharge an angler's career.

Blaylock already was seasoned when he joined the Elite Series Tour in 2017 after 10 years on the FLW Tour. His first two years in the Elite Series showed solid growth, and 2019 might prove to be the setup to a breakout year in 2020.

Like Blaylock, Canterbury was an FLW star before migrating to the Elite Series. It was part of a major reshuffling of talent that occurred when Major League Fishing lured away the top anglers from both tours. The migration hit BASS hardest because all of its stars migrated to the new tour.

FLW lost many of its stars, too, but it absorbed the blow with less damage. The FLW Tour is not as personality driven as is the Elite Series, and its expansive farm system maintains a vast reservoir of contenders in its pipeline.

On the other hand, the reconfiguration enabled anglers such as Blaylock and Canterbury to redefine themselves and their goals. With its slick media machine, BASS will mold them into its next generation of superstars. We are glad to see an Arkansan near the top of that tower.

Major League Fishing

After watching a couple of tournaments on TV, I am sold on Major League Fishing. It is an exciting, fast-paced format in which anglers fish in brackets. They are rewarded for every keeper fish they catch and advance on the total weight they catch. A round occurs in quarters. If an angler is on a roll at the end of a quarter, he can lose momentum because lines must be out of the water on command.

Hot anglers go cold, and struggling anglers catch fire. And they all know what the others are doing in real time, so they have to deal with that pressure as well.

From a conservation standpoint, it is a conscientious format. Anglers weigh each fish in the presence of a marshal and release it immediately. This eliminates the inhumane practice of parading fish around on a weigh-in stage. It also eliminates day-long incarcerations in live wells, the effects of which are exacerbated in hot weather.

Anglers are penalized if a fish touches the deck, eliminating the inhumane practice of slinging a fish onto a deck.

Curiously, Major League Fishing anglers apparently do not earn money for winning tournaments. Their reward is intensive TV coverage for which they are rewarded by their sponsors. Anglers who don't perform well don't get much air time, which means they are essentially fishing for free. In conventional tournaments, an angler can finish deep in the standings and still win a few thousand dollars to defray expenses.

Larry Nixon, who fishes the FLW Tour, said that Major League Fishing is not compelling because nobody wants to watch anglers catching 1-pound bass all day. That explains why BASS scheduled all of its 2020 tournaments on renowned big bass fisheries. Spectators and viewers love to see big bass, which is why the Bassmaster Classic was moved from summer to winter in 2006. The 2005 Classic at Pittsburgh was dramatic, but the fish were all tiny.

When it announced the schedule, BASS made clear its intentions. The lead sentence in its news release said: "For fans who love watching professional anglers catch giant bass, the schedule is likely to be love at first sight."

FLW in Arkansas

The FLW Tour seems to take that approach in 2020, as well. Although it no longer visits Beaver Lake, the FLW Tour will visit Lake Dardanelle on May 14-17. As Alabama is home to BASS, Arkansas is kind of like a vacation home for FLW. It's based in Kentucky and Minnesota, but it holds a lot more major tournaments here.

Sports on 10/03/2019

Print Headline: Arkansas back on BASS map


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