Major League Fishing pro Gary Klein

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY, Fla. – He was the unenviable “odd man out” of the 2018 General Tire World Championship – finishing just .021 points out of the final berth in the 12-man field – but Major League Fishing co-founder Gary Klein can’t disguise the pride in his voice when he’s asked about the competition ongoing this month on CBS Television.

“We have a pretty good thing going, don’t we?” Klein says with a smile, referring to this month’s airings of the second World Championship, held in Indian River County, Florida. “Our vision for MLF as a whole is quite grand, but for us to create the World Championship, to show it to a totally new audience on a national network like CBS is pretty extraordinary. We’re making history.”

Fishing history is something that Klein is well-versed in. He started his tournament career in 1979 at the age of 22, and has competed in upwards of 500 professional events in his 39-year career. He’s qualified for 30 Bassmaster Classics, won two Bassmaster Angler of the Year awards (1989 and 1993), and will be inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in September.

More importantly for MLF fans, it was Klein and MLF co-founder Boyd Duckett’s vision for a dramatically different fishing competition that spawned the basic format that MLF still operates under today, some 22 events and six years after the very first competition was held on Lake Amistad in 2012.

“Back when Boyd and I first started talking seriously about (MLF), I already had the format in my head,” Klein says. “I just grabbed my notepad and sat down in my boat in my shop one day, and wrote it all out in about 30 minutes. Basically, I did away with some of the things that I don’t like about traditional tournament fishing and incorporated elements of what people experience in ‘conventional’ angling. But I wrote out the competition periods, the boat officials, the real-time leaderboard – all of that has remained the same since I first drafted those original rules.”

World Championship exclusives

While still adhering to the basic format that has attracted longtime viewers to the MLF Cups and Selects, Klein and the MLF competition committee created slight wrinkles in the existing formats for the 12-man World Championship, adding two Shotgun Rounds before the traditional Elimination Rounds, and giving the two Shotgun Round winners – in this case, Andy Montgomery and Skeet Reese – automatic entry into the Sudden Death Round.

According to Klein, those new competition rounds provided CBS viewers better access to all 12 of the qualifying anglers and gave each of those competitors an ample amount of airtime to a broad national audience.

“We ran through several different scenarios for a 12-angler format, trying to create a competition with an MLF signature, but with a little tweak,” Klein confirms. “Those Shotgun Rounds and the carryover weight format add a little different (twist), and they provide those 12 qualified anglers the additional coverage they deserve, instead of several of them being eliminated the first day they fished.”

Reaching new viewers is key

As he discusses the evolution of the MLF brand and the national reach of the World Championship, Klein is noticeably passionate about the sport growing into households outside of the traditional fishing/hunting market. He points to a handful of production elements introduced this season that enhance the viewing experience and allow the anglers to be even more involved in the storytelling.

“We’re showing this sport to a brand new audience, and to me, the product that they’re seeing here in Year 2 of the World Championship is pretty special,” Klein says. “The way we’re utilizing voiceovers and allowing the anglers to set the stage based on what they’re experiencing shows MLF’s commitment to bring the viewers along on the experience.

“The number one thing that I wanted from Day 1 was that we create something that allowed the viewer to feel what it was like to be in the boat with Kevin VanDam and Bobby Lane, and witness the process of breaking that fishery down with the best anglers in the world. That’s one thing we’ve seen in Florida: as soon as those 12 anglers arrived on those waters, they had the right techniques and the right way to fish them. I think it’s pretty cool that our audience gets to witness that.”