Bass Fishing’s Great Divide: Additional Anglers Leave MLFPrint This Post
The last year has been a relatively tumultuous time in the world of professional bass fishing. The rumor mill has been operating at a break-neck pace, as speculation continues to surround the future of the industry’s two largest professional fishing organizations, B.A.S.S. and MLF.
Last fall, it was announced that Gerald Swindle and Brandon Palaniuk would leave MLF, in favor of a return to the B.A.S.S. Elites. Instantly, rumors began to swirl as to the reason behind these abrupt departures. Further fanning these flames of speculation was a relative lack of background information surrounding the terms of Swindle and Palaniuk’s return to B.A.S.S.
For all intents and purposes, neither angler has publicly delved into the reasoning behind their decisions. While both anglers stated that rejoining B.A.S.S. signaled a return “home”, many felt as if there might be more to the story.
However, the waters have been muddied even further over the last month, as the 2021 MLF angler lineup was announced. Notably absent from this roster were several big names, including Greg Hackney, Jason Christie, Justin Atkins, Jacob Powroznik, and Mike Iaconelli.
Where To Now?
In order to fully understand the dynamic shift that has taken place, one must first analyze what the future holds for each angler that has chosen to forgo MLF competition. At this point, we know that Justin Atkins, Greg Hackney, and Jason Christie have departed to fish the Elites, which adds these anglers to the list of those that have opted out of continued MLF competition, in favor of future competition with B.A.S.S.
Up to this point, the reason for each angler’s departure from MLF appears vague. Hackney recently confirmed his decision in a Facebook post, stating, “2021 Bassmaster Elite Series here we come!!” Likewise, Christie made a similar Facebook announcement in late November, which simply read, “It’s official. We’re going back.”
On December 4th, Justin Atkins also officially announced his plans for 2021 via Facebook, in a heartfelt post that described this change of pace as the fulfillment of a dream. In this post, Atkins stated the following.
“Today, with the help of the Good Lord I was able to make some childhood dreams a reality. My whole life I have dreamed about this moment, and it just wouldn’t go away until I made it. In 2021, I will be fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series!”
At the current moment, far less is known regarding Jacob Powroznik’s 2021 plans. Unlike those named above, Powroznik has not made an official statement of intent via Facebook, nor does there appear to be any credible information in circulation as to what such plans might include.
The Ike Equation
For those keeping score at home, it might be apparent that we have yet to discuss Mike Iaconelli’s plans for 2021. This is for good reason. Iaconelli’s situation appears to be somewhat more complicated.
Those who were keeping tabs a few years prior, likely recall that Iaconelli was initially a monumental supporter of MLF, and all that the organization stood for. In fact, Iaconelli served as a charter member of MLF, as well as one of its most vocal cheerleaders.
However, Iaconelli has now opted out of MLF competition for the 2021 season, and thus far, few answers have been provided as to what his future plans are. The 2003 Bassmaster Classic Champion has offered little insight regarding his intentions and has simply stated that he could not come to terms with signing a contract with MLF before the provided deadline.
Iaconelli has insisted that even he does not know what the future holds at the current moment. He has gone on record, stating, “I want to continue to fish tournaments, but for next year I don’t know if that means Toyota Series events and Opens or if I’ll end up doing other things to help facilitate that competitive drive.”
So what possibilities exist for Iaconelli, and what might the legendary angler’s 2021 itinerary look like? In truth, it is difficult to say. Much speculation has existed that Iaconelli could break from tournament angling to focus on his numerous media-related endeavors. He already devotes an enormous amount of time and effort to his various social media channels, a hugely popular podcast, and seminar schedule.
Talk has also centered around a new fishing television concept that Iaconelli has been promoting, and is slated to launch. This in itself would require a significant devotion of time, which might be limited when fishing in one tour or another.
Others have questioned whether or not Iaconelli is holding out for contractual leverage, whether in connection with B.A.S.S. or MLF. If this is the case, little to no proof has surfaced, and it would be unlikely that the bass fishing world would be keen to such dealings until the dotted line has already been signed.
Whatever the case might be, it seems that only time will tell. At the current moment, we will have to wait until Iaconelli himself makes a move, to understand the gravity of this situation in its entirety.
Where Does MLF Stand?
The other side of this story relates to the future of MLF as a whole, and what is to be expected over the next one, two, or even five years. While MLF has certainly lost some enormous names from its roster as of late, a great deal of bass fishing’s most renowned anglers remains on board.
With names such as Kevin VanDam, Ott Defoe, Jacob Wheeler, Edwin Evers, and Jordan Lee all slated to return for action on the 2021 Bass Pro Tour, one would be hard-pressed to say that MLF is in a state of decline. The organization has retained the vast majority of anglers that they signed from the onset.
However, one must also consider whether or not such high-profile departures from MLF will prove to be a continuing trend. If so, the next couple of years will certainly prove interesting. On the other hand, if the events of the past twelve months prove to be a series of isolated events, MLF should be poised for continued success well into the future.
We can only guess what the future will hold, on many levels. Will Mike Iaconelli return to B.A.S.S., or make his way back to MLF? Will anglers continue to depart from MLF competition, opting to fish the Elites instead? These are all questions that we currently have no answer to. At the present, it appears that only time will tell.