By Dave Landahl - January 1, 2019
Gary Klein has often been thought of as “the thinking man’s angler”. Being somewhat professorial in his presentations about bass fishing and tournament competition, it should come as no surprise that Klein is one of the originators of Major League Fishing and its offspring, the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour.
Klein’s backstory is very well documented, from growing up in Northern California to heading east at the age of 22 to pursue a career as a bass pro. But not a lot is known about his creative thinking: Klein’s concepts and ideas may have seemed odd and impulsive to who were unaware of his goals at the time, but MLF and the Bass Pro Tour brewed in his mind for years before MLF started competition in 2011.
“Major League Fishing and the Bass Pro Tour aren’t something that just happened overnight,” Klein confirmed. “Everything has evolved into what it is today. We created the Bass Pro Tour because of the direction of the sport, or what we called ‘the sport’. I’ve never had another occupation other than angling, so my thoughts are always on how to improve what we participate in.
“I got involved in pro fishing because Ray Scott had a vision. He created the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society and it allowed a young California kid to follow his vision. I made my living fishing for bass. As I matured and evolved, I realized that with success comes responsibility. I felt as though we needed change for the positive in our sport.”
From one parking-lot conversation…
MLF and the Bass Pro Tour started from humble beginnings: a parking lot in Shreveport, Louisiana.
“The concept of Major League Fishing was born out of a conversation with Boyd Duckett in a parking lot, during official practice for the 2009 Bassmaster Classic on the Red River,” Klein said. “We talked about making what we do into a pro sport. Usually, someone has a trail and offers opportunities to fish, but we play for our own money – well, usually 80 percent of our money or so.
“There’s lots of fuzzy math with many of the tournaments. The guys were having fun, but were always looking for sponsors to try and make money to survive. We knew it had to change. We couldn’t do the same thing over and over and expect different results.”
Two years after that conversation, MLF started competition on Lake Amistad, Texas, and Klein and his compatriots waited to see what would ultimately happen.
“I wrote the concept for MLF in about 30 minutes,” Klein said. “I had it in my head for years, but the exacts weren’t possible to know until we met with production and figured out how many days it would take, etc. I had it written down, how it should go, all that, but until it goes live, you never know. The first time we participated in the MLF format on Lake Amistad, I said, ‘Wow, we really have something to work with.’
“Out of the 24 anglers who shot our first show, all of them thought we had something here that was special. The 24 anglers with so many years of experience at regular events. We all had input, but were unsure of how it would play out. Once we did, it was amazing.”
MLF powered along for seven years, but according to Klein, it had to evolve into something greater. That’s when the Bass Pro Tour became a reality.
“The reason for the 2019 launch of the MLF Bass Pro Tour was simple: It was time, and we had what we needed lined up,” Klein said. “In order for us to succeed with our vision, we had to have all the pieces of the puzzle aligned. We had it a few years ago, but things weren’t lined up. For us, 2019 was right; we couldn’t wait until 2020. My biggest fear was that we couldn’t get it all lined up, but 2019 is the time. Everybody is engaged.
“The MLF Bass Pro Tour is an expansion of MLF, not something new that happened overnight. From Boyd and my conversation in the parking lot, to two years later at the first MLF event, then fast forward to now, and its evolved. Everything is planned. We always ask ‘How can we?’. My vision is grander than the BPT even. (I want) high school and college (levels), where those anglers can compete and grow in the system like Major League Baseball. Right now, we need to build from the top, but eventually, with the feeder system, there will be a clear path of how to become a professional bass angler. The MLF Bass Pro Tour is just the beginning.”