MARK DAVIS: The Evolution of Bassin’ for a Living - Major League Fishing

MARK DAVIS: The Evolution of Bassin’ for a Living

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Mark Davis reminisces on the evolution of bass fishing. Photo by Garrick Dixon
April 22, 2021 • Mark Davis • Angler Columns

Professional bass fishing, like all professional sports, has changed.

When you think about it, it’s a relatively new sport. Since B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott began the Casting for Cash tournaments in the late 1960s, and the first-ever Bassmaster Classic in 1971, that puts the sport at roughly 50 years old. Young in comparison to many professional sports.

So let’s take a quick look to see how the actual sport has changed.

Formats of Competition

In the beginning, the only format was a random-partner draw where a boater or professional angler were paired up together. Both anglers would have to decide whose boat they would use and whose fish they would fish for. 

Not exactly the best format, but it was necessary because two anglers from the same state were never paired as partners, in case they knew one another and might cheat or break a rule. This was the way the sport policed itself, along with a set of rules enforced by the tournament director.

It’s also noteworthy to mention daily bass limits were as high as 15 bass per angler depending upon state regulations.

This format style stayed in place for roughly 20 years. When I began my professional fishing career in 1986, it was pro-on-pro draw.

And I’d like to mention some of my most memorable events were shared alongside fellow pros I’ve drawn like KVD, Jimmy Houston, Paul Elias, Guido Hibdon and Gary Klein. The cool thing about spending the day with your competition is that he sees your “A” game and you see his! Not to mention the relationships you acquire.

But this story is about the evolution and, in 1987, winds of change were coming. At the request of the professional anglers, and to allow for a more even playing field, pro-am style events were first held on Lake Okeechobee in the fall of 1987 and again in 1988.

The pro-am style event was an instant success. Professional anglers loved the format because they were able to have control of the boat and all decision-making throughout the entire day. The co-angler or amateur also loved it because he could now compete with other co-anglers who were all restricted to fishing in the back of the boat.

In general, bass fishing gained national and global popularity. States implemented smaller daily creel limits as well as more restrictive size limits and slot limits to manage bass populations.

Daily limits were finally reduced to five fish in the early 90s.

In my opinion, the change from seven to five bass was the biggest change I’d seen in the years I’d spent as a pro: From 10 to seven to five bass per day. Techniques and strategies changed big time. In a multi-day event, two fewer bass per day over the course of six, three-day event schedules meant 36 fewer bass you could weigh in during a season.

The numbers speak for themselves. More emphasis on bigger bass, less on numbers.

I’m saying this because many anglers today have never fished for anything other than five bass .

The MLF format is the latest evolution in the many formats that Mark Davis has competed in. Photo by Garrick Dixon

The Evolution Continues

I can remember thinking in 1995, when I won the Bassmaster Classic, “This sport is great.”

How could it get any better? The pro-am format and a five-bass daily limit was the best format we had experienced.

But we soon realized to further even the playing field, more changes were needed. Those changes came in the form of a boat official, marshal or referee.

Another huge improvement.

The problem with the co-angler or amateur competing out of the back of your boat was obvious: He was fishing hard to catch bass the pro had located. Thus, catching bass that the pro could potentially catch. And some co-anglers didn’t even fish while others fished very hard, so you can see the obvious uneven playing field pro-am formats created.

The Biggest Evolvement

I haven’t mentioned the various leagues that have shaped our sport: B.A.S.S., FLW and MLF.

I’ve had the opportunity to compete in all three. Each league has contributed immensely to the evolution of the sport. The changes I’m referring to were to always enhance the competition.

Without a doubt, the biggest change in the evolvement of pro bass fishing has been the catch, weigh, immediate-release format. Pair that with every scorable bass counts and it’s a game-changer for the sport .

Let’s take a moment to analyze the pros and cons of this newest evolvement.

Pros

  1. Conservation-wise, it’s a no-brainer. The fish are caught, weighed and released in a matter of 20 seconds or less.
    • Bass, being our precious resource, aren’t put into a livewell, hauled to a weigh-in, handled multiple times while bagged and weighed, then often transported again before being released. This eliminates worries about delayed fish mortality.
    • Another positive is that during the spawn, bass aren’t removed from the bed and hauled to a weigh-in.
    • Penalties are in place to force better fish handling during this catch, weigh and release process. To land a bass properly, it can’t touch the carpet. So boat flipping bass on purpose is a heavily-timed penalty.
    • Another requirement is to gently release the bass below the gunnel of the boat.
  2. An angler can continue to catch and score as many bass as they can catch with minimal limits. 
  3. And all the while they know the score, not a guess, but the actual live score with MLF’s SCORETRACKER® technology.
    • An angler doesn’t have to beat up himself, his equipment or his official by making a brutal ride back to a weigh-in. You fish on the clock from lines in to lines out. Then take it easy and slow back to the ramp. 
    • The entire event is made for TV and live streaming on MajorLeagueFishing.com. Fishing fans love to watch MLF because it’s like watching a game.

Cons

  1. Anglers who are accustomed to the five-bass limit have to continually search for another bass score.
    • Some anglers do not like it.
    • In my opinion, it’s definitely more difficult. You can’t ever relax. Rarely can you ever catch enough fish or get far enough ahead to relax.
    • This is by design, but not all anglers like it. 
  2. No weigh-in. As great as catch, weigh and release is for the resource, it doesn’t provide fans with a weigh-in.
  3. You compete and advance from your respective group. This means not all anglers are on the water at the same time. Not sure this is truly a con, but it’s definitely different

Where to Next?

What will be the next evolvement? One thing is for sure: Professional bass fishing will continue to change. It’s a great sport and no matter how much it evolves, there’s always room for further improvements.