With the deadline for the deposit for the 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series due next week, several qualifying “two tour” pros are still wrestling with the need to make a decision soon (and for some, to still secure sponsor deals).
In recent years the shuffling of professional bass anglers between the two top tours has been interesting to watch. Numerous established pros have changed tournament trails, looking to find the best organization for their goals, sponsors and career aspirations. The last few years have included numerous Bassmaster Elite Series rookies having years of experience on the FLW Tour and also several Bassmaster Elite anglers switching to the FLW Tour. The upcoming season will be no different, but 2013 will be the first time in recent years when a pro will have the chance to fish both (due to reduced FLW events and no major schedule conflicts). This year’s Bassmaster Elite Series qualifiers include three established and proven FLW Tour anglers, all winners at the top level; Kevin Hawk, Cliff Pirch and Jason Christie. All three qualified through the Bassmaster Opens and each have different goals for next season, and are now faced with a big decision.
On the strength of a 2nd Place finish in the Bassmaster Northern Opens, Arizona’s Cliff Pirch accomplished his goal of qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series. For him, fishing the Northern and Southern Opens was a way to keep his options open for 2013 and also fish more events in 2012. He also wanted to wait and see if any opportunities opened up for him with FLW (in terms of securing a team deal). Now that he has qualified for both tours, he is weighing his options, but the Bassmaster Elite Series has taken first priority. “I sent my deposits in and am going to fish the Elites, that was one of my goals for this year and now that it has happened, I am going for it,” states Pirch. He is not ruling out a return to the FLW Tour and with the reduced schedule he is open to fishing both tours if the right sponsorship deal comes together. He adds that, if he does not fish both tours, he will fill in other events with the Professional Anglers Association (PAA) and the new Outdoor Heritage Inc. trail set to launch next season. “In 2012, I fished 19 or 20 tournaments and will try to fish that many again in 2013,” concluded Pirch.
Hawk was very consistent this season during the Bassmaster Opens and he was rewarded with the series’ point title in the Southern Opens and an invitation to the Bassmaster Elite Series. The Elite Series was a goal Hawk had going into the 2012 season, and much like Cliff Pirch, he wanted to cover all of his bases. “I wanted to try to qualify for the Elites and also wanted to try and give myself some options going into the 2013 season,” explains Hawk. “I feel fortunate to now have the opportunity to either continue fishing the FLW Tour or move to the Bassmaster Elites,” he adds. His decision must come fast as the first deposits for the Elites are due soon. This creates some urgency for Hawk as he is still in negotiations with sponsors. “I’ve approached both existing sponsors and potentially new sponsors about my plans for next season, and they all have been extremely receptive to the possibility of representing them on the Elites. At this point, I feel like I have more potential with my personal sponsors and a better opportunity to gain new sponsors if I fish the Elites next season,” states Hawk. When talking about the differences between both tours, Hawk was quick to highlight how each of them, “Are really two different business models. I feel the Bassmaster Elites offer an opportunity for more name recognition and personal sponsor promotion as a whole. While the FLW Tour does promote its anglers, it also has to spend time and effort promoting the FLW sponsor associated with the team angler,” says Hawk.
Oklahoma’s Jason Christie originally had no intentions to fish the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2013, but he is now considering fishing both tours. His main goal and reason for fishing the Bassmaster Opens in 2012 was to qualify for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic on his home lake, Grand Lake, Oklahoma. Along the way during 2012, he won two Bassmaster Open events and qualified for the Bassmaster Classic. One added bonus he wasn’t expecting or aiming for was the invitation to fish the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2013. For Christie, it will come down to finances. “I am working on some deals and have some things working out there,” Christie stated.
With the reduced FLW Tour schedule next year, many anglers will be looking for additional events to fill their schedule. In 2012, Christie had fished 16 events, which is pretty much the same as 2013 would be if hr fished the both tours. “The only difference is they are all major events with a lot of pressure, so you better be able catch them every time, if you want to make any money,” emphasized Christie. He mentions that the FLW Tour is a definite, but the best answer of whether or not he will fish the Elite Series is still yet to be determined by him.
The Return of the Two Tour Pro?
The two-tour pro was a common occurrence before the inception of the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2006, but next year (2013) might go down as “the return of the two tour pro.” The logistics and travel details are not ideal yet not impossible, and several anglers are doing what they can to make it work. Ish Monroe, an angler who is known for fishing a large number of events each year, recently announced he will be running two separate wrapped boats and rigs, one for each tour. Other anglers, who have been fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series exclusively, are also contemplating fishing both tours now that the schedule will allow them to do so.
Overall, the general sense is that many of these anglers want to be able to fish as many events as they can in order to try to win enough money to make it a successful season. The underlying differences between both tours will always appeal to different anglers and the FLW team program will always be a factor in choosing who stays where, but professional anglers depend on fishing as many events as possible to make money. Fishing two tours also provides twice as many chances to win – and winning means everything to a pro when it comes to sponsorship and promotion income.