- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Imagine if the grand poobahs of golfdom were to schedule the British Open and the Masters during the same week. Wouldn’t there be a huge outcry from the PGA pros?

That is precisely what recently happened in the hitherto peaceful world of professional bass fishing, where the purses aren’t quite as large as the golfers’, but they’re growing. If a skilled bass angler parlays the various tournaments properly and consistently scores in the upper rungs, he or she could make enough money to live very comfortably.

Enter two competing bass tournament groups: the oldest of them all, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS), and the upstart Forrest L. Wood (FLW) Tour. The trouble with the FLW is that its founder, boat manufacturer and financier, Irwin L. Jacobs, never has been very fond of BASS. Some say it has something to do with the man who started it all, BASS founder Ray Scott. Insiders say Jacobs never cared for Scott. But Scott doesn’t own the firm any more; ESPN does.

That didn’t stop Jacobs’ people from announcing recently that his season-ending FLW Tour Championship would be held on the very same days the BASS Masters Classic would have its run — the last weekend of next July.

The national touring bass pros thus were put into a position of having to choose which tournaments to compete in so they might win a slot in one of the two groups’ championship event. They were livid about Jacobs’ obvious power play.

Former BASS Masters Classic champion, Jay Yelas of Texas said, “I will not be fishing FLW next year. BASS has gone the extra mile to help anglers fish both tours if they want to, and the anglers appreciate that. BASS has more to offer [in] endorsement opportunities. To build a long-term career as a bass fisherman, you have a lot better chance doing that fishing [with] BASS than FLW. It gives me a better chance to make a living as a pro fisherman.”

Another BASS champion, South Carolina’s Davy Hite, said, “I’ve won both the FLW Championship and the BASS Masters Classic, and I can tell you that there is no comparison. When I won the FLW Championship, I got $250,000 and that was all it did for my career. When I won the BASS Masters Classic, it changed my life. Winning [the Classic] opens up all the doors in the world for potential sponsorships. The Classic is the world championship of competitive fishing.”

Said former Classic champion, Denny Brauer of Missouri: “I’m shocked. This is not good for the fans, the media or the anglers. The Classic is the show. The Classic is the granddaddy, and those dates should be respected by everyone. It’s going to be tough for the industry sponsors. I’m sorry for the anglers who qualify for both series and have [a] decision to make.”

Perennial bass tour star, Gary Klein of Texas said, “I don’t know how to put things into words. My loyalty is with BASS. It always has been and always will be. This is a great opportunity for me to just get my deposits back [from FLW] and bow out, because why fish if I can’t make the championship? It would be a shame that a professional angler [who] has supported both circuits has to be put in a position to make a choice.”

Irwin Jacobs didn’t expect this type of reaction. In an open letter to all the professional bass anglers, he claimed that he wasn’t aware his championship tournament dates would conflict with the those scheduled by BASS. He even offered an apology — not an easy thing for a very rich man to do.

His championship now has been rescheduled for Sept. 8-11.

If you believe that Jacobs’ gamble was a misunderstanding or an accidental occurrence, I have a piece of swampland in Florida I’d like to sell you.

• Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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