One event on MLF can teach you more about tournament fishing than a year of watching any other show.
This last round in Michigan, I learned:
- What makes some of these guys great is how they adapt to the event as it happens. And some learn faster than others. Van Dam was getting penalized for fish falling off his hook on to the deck and while he waited out the penalty, he had to let his boat drift.
To compensate, he started dropping his power poles as he reeled the fish in, so if it did fall off he could wait out the penalty, then make the same cast again. In this brand-new scenario, it only took him a few iterations to make the adjustment.
- As you watch the guys landing fish you realize that some methods work better than others. The guys who really have it dialed do a move where they set the rod down right at the end and grab the line. The guys that lose more fish tended to reach with one hand while pulling back on the rod with the other hand. These are great fishermen who were doing it, but they lost fish because of it.
- Some guys have incredible intuition. What it's based on is probably hard to say, but they have it. Aaron Martens mumbled something at one point about his "magnetic fish sense" telling him to go somewhere. Brent Ehler pulled up on the first spot the first day and just crushed the fish right then and there. On a lake he had probably never seen. No substitute for being a bad ass.
- Pros like these guys are very good at catching follow up fish. Granted smallmouth are dumber than normal and much more likely to eat a lure after seeing your boat, but it was impressive to see how fast some of these guys could get a bait on a fish and catch it.
- Sight fishing is probably a weakness of many pros, even on the Elite level. When you spend thousands of hours looking at bass like I have, you learn baits and methods to catch visible fish. Aaron, Brent and some of the guys have the methods down, but it seemed like a lot of the guys didn't. And no one seemed to be really pulling out the stops on lure selection. Maybe that's because they didn't have to with willing smallmouth, but I was hoping to see more revealed.
- It seemed like part of the guys fish with an approach where they try to match their preferred techniques to something happening in the lake to get fish. Part of the guys are just looking for a mega spot. And part of the guys are just in a pure search mode where they hunt any kind of bite in any part of the lake. Each can win but it's interesting to watch the approaches and think about which is best.
- One of the defining qualities of all of the guys who do well is their belief that they'll do well. In a sport where you might 200 worthless casts for every good one, it probably helps to have this attitude. Like addicted gamblers who believe the next payday is always around the corner. It was almost funny to hear the guys one minute saying, "I got um figured out now" and then a bit later, "I thought I had them figured out". Lack of objectivity is probably a redeeming quality in tournament fishing.
- In this Michigan event you saw spectators for the first time. People must have seen them on the water and started following. It makes you realize that spectating in FLW and especially BASS events is just a terrible thing for the sport. Taking away the spectators reveals clearly who is the best that day. And the results in MLF make it pretty clear that some guys are the badassess and some guys are not so much.
MLF's next move is to add more guys to the events. I hope they can do this and preserve the current feel of the show. What makes the show the best fishing show on TV is the fact that you can follow the entire competition, just like watching a "real" sport. If adding guys makes it so you can't watch all the coverage of all the fish, it will lose something. GoPros are cheap so we'll see how it goes.
Another evolution of MLF could be to give the guys their boats back. Normalizing the boats isn't leveling the playing field that much. If that's what it takes to get endemic sponsors in, it's cool. But I'd enjoy seeing the latest gear showcased in the events. Like see how they really use 360 sonar and Hydrowave and all that. Plus it was just kind of sad to see Aaron yelling wheeee at one of the blast offs in that POS Nitro (sorry but true).
In any case, I can't wait for the next episode. The sound of that Salter scale rattling around with fish on it provokes a Pavlovian fish response in my brain.