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27 Jun

Major League Bass Fishing: All You Need to Know

Bass Fishing Tips , BassForecast …

If you were to mention professional fishing fifty years ago, you’d probably get some odd looks. The concept of putting your skills to the test as an angler and bringing home cash prizes just wasn’t around back then.

Now, it’s an entire sport.

Sport fishing has blossomed since its early inception, and now, there are tons of competitions around the world to see who can catch the biggest bass, catch the largest combined weight for a set number of bass, etc.

At the top of that mountain of competitions sits the MLF, or the Major League Fishing, and today we want to take some time to go over what the Major League bass fishing is, how it works, a bit of its history, and more.

Let’s get started.

The Beginning of Professional Fishing

As we said, professional fishing wasn’t really a thing just a few decades ago. The MLF certainly wasn’t the start of it. For the vast majority of American history, fishing was simply a food source, and it slowly changed to also be a fun pastime in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Then, in 1932, something exciting happened. George Perry caught a 22-pound bass.

That feat generated buzz that spread around the nation like wildfire, and while the same standards we have in place for record keeping today were not developed yet, it kicked off the state record craze that fuels most anglers to target big fish specifically, today.

That's a key point to remember because, without that, we probably wouldn’t have the fishing community we have, today.

The excitement following George Perry’s catch, and the subsequent massive catches as people rushed to get their names in the record books, kicked off the concept of sport fishing in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

That’s the period when the fishing gear we know and love today first started to see true innovation, and it only happened so rapidly because so many fishermen were becoming interested in fishing, not for meat to feed their families, but for the thrill of getting a big bass on the line.

Professional fishing still wasn’t much of a concept, but as sport fishing picked up steam over the following decades, small circuit competitions and local competitions started to spring up. These are still around today, but we’ll talk about those later.

This gave fishermen an incentive to gather and compete, even when it was on such a small scale. Cash prizes and giveaways became common, and an entire community formed around it.

Circa 1971, we got the first annual Bassmaster Classic for the best of the best to show off their skills and target big prizes. The prizes weren’t quite up to the standards of modern televised sports, but this is a good point to consider the start of true professional fishing. The Classic tournament is still around, today, too.

All of these small advancements happening at a rapid pace would eventually lead to several massive professional fishing circuits with huge cash prizes and sizable audiences that draw participants from around the world.

The Start of the MLF

While fishing on a semi-professional and professional level has been around for decades, the fishing world wasn’t graced with its own professional league until 2010. That’s when Major League Fishing was created. However, it took nearly a year to plan, market, and set up the first competition.

In 2011, the joint venture between PBTAA and the Outdoors Channel kicked off the first annual Major League Challenge Cup.

The Challenge Cup was held at Amistad Reservoir in Texas, and while it was recorded at the time of the event, it didn’t air on the Outdoors Channel until nearly a year later in 2012.

This first MLF competition was a major milestone for professional fishing. It took professional fishing from simply good fishermen traveling around for tournaments and gave them an actual sports league to participate in with all the perks and benefits that you see with other sports.

What Sets MLF Apart from Traditional Tournaments and Circuits?

You might be wondering why the MLF was even necessary. Of course, there have been high-profile bass fishing tournaments around for far longer, and some of them even have larger cash prize opportunities in the millions. So, what makes the MLF worthwhile?

It has to do with having a comprehensive and consistent list of regulations. When an entire sport is broken down into individual competitions, rules, requirements, and everything else can become sporadic, and rather than belonging to a sport, anglers are more or less just guys traveling around the country participating in whatever competitions they can qualify for.

A league changes that. When an angler makes their way into the league, they enjoy consistency, more recognition, and a bit more prestige as a pro. It’s also easier to get sponsors when you’re on such a large platform consistently. Imagine some of your favorite athletes and how few their sponsorships would be if they never knew what that angler was doing and there was no official standard for being a “pro”.

How Does the MLF Work?

The MLF is a lot like any other sports league, but rather than having to spend years fighting for recruiters to see you in action, you just pay a fee to get started. It does get a lot more complicated than that, though. 

There are six divisions in the MLF to separate different types of anglers at various skill levels with varying approaches to the sport. This opens the league up and ensures there are plenty of participants and a variety of content produced to engage viewers.

At the most basic level, you can pay the fee online and buy a membership in the MLF. However, as you move up, the requirements change, and you need to actually prove yourself to warrant being in better divisions.

The MLF also has different rules than the traditional tournaments you’re likely familiar with. Most notably, participants don’t get any practice days, and there are no limits on the fish caught. It all comes down to who performs the best, and if you want to practice your skills, you have to do it on your own time. Once the event starts, every catch is fair game. Of course, there are plenty of regulations to prevent cheating, inappropriate fishing strategies, and similar issues. The league also does a good job of catching people attempting to break the rules.

How Do MLF Anglers Get Paid?

MLF anglers get paid in a few ways. First, there are up to $265,000 in cash prizes, and there are other prizes donated to the competition that are tacked on to the cash prizes or offered to runner-ups.

However, that’s not where all the money is. While winning $265,000 for enjoying yourself on the water sounds amazing, and no one would scoff at that, the real money comes in via sponsorships.

High-performing anglers don’t just try to win. They try to earn sponsorships from fishing-related companies. In exchange for wearing a company’s branded clothing or using its gear, the company compensates the angler financially, and the angler usually gets plenty of free products before they even come out; this not only helps the company market their products, but it helps the angler build out their kit with the best of the best without spending all their excess cash like so many of us do.

Of course, not every MLF angler gets sponsored. While you can enter the MLF just by paying a fee, that’s not going to get sponsors to pay you and give you free stuff. You’ll have to earn that by proving you’re worth their investment. 

Where Does the MLF Fish?

The MLF started in Texas, but it’s not there all the time. In fact, the MLF prefers to use surprise locations. This keeps the competition varied each year, and considering it doesn’t offer practice days, it means that most anglers will be going in without previous knowledge of the area, and it all comes down to their raw skills to determine whether or not they can fish; it’s certainly not a case of getting really good at fishing a single spot.

How Does the MLF Keep Track of Rankings?

The MLF keeps track of each angler and makes their results public differently than many other organizations. It keeps a real-time leaderboard active to track each participant’s performance throughout the entire event. This keeps the pressure on the anglers, and if you’re watching it, it adds to the excitement. Participants can jump all over the leaderboard at any second.

Where Can I Watch the MLF?

If you’re not willing to pay the rather high entry fee to participate, you’re not out of luck. You can still enjoy the excitement as a bystander without paying. However, you have to know where to look.

Like other sports, the event is televised live. You can find the official MLF tournaments on the Outdoors Channel just like when the first Challenge Cup was aired. However, MLF is sponsored by Bass Pro and several other companies with their own tournaments, and the MLF sort of functions as an all-encompassing umbrella organization that promotes those tournaments. So, they frequently announce other tournaments via their own communication channels such as their website, and they announce the appropriate viewing station each time they do. Head over to their website if you ever want to see the schedule or learn about their partners.

How to Get Prepared for the MLF

For most anglers, the Major League bass fishing quickly ends up being a goal. Even if you aren’t particularly interested in participating at the truly professional tier, the prestige and sense of accomplishment that comes from participating even in lower divisions is unparalleled in the fishing world.

However, it’s not recommended just to run off and participate. It's fairly pricey with even low-end participation costing $15,000, and if you don’t have the skills to potentially win prizes, you’re pretty much just handing your money over to go fishing.

Instead, we recommend taking the same route you’d have to take for any of the pro circuits that are invite-only. Work your way up.

This is most easily done by starting with your local fishing tournaments. These are typically set up by municipalities or businesses in the area, and they’re great opportunities to learn how a fishing tournament works, the basic rules that don’t vary much from tournament to tournament, and of course, get yourself used to the pressure that comes along with competition. It’s a lot different than spending a day on the lake and leisurely going after some big bass and good times.

Those little tournaments and derbies don’t do much, though. The competition isn’t too fierce, and a lot of the time, they’re either for low-value prizes or bragging rights. Once you’ve gotten the most out of them, it’s a good idea to start signing up for state tournaments and larger competitions.

State-level competitions and larger tournaments tend to have qualifying rounds and entry fees that are a lot more reasonable than the MLF, but they can still hit your pocketbook when you’re first starting out. This is when you start to have more significant opportunities, have the chance to make an impression on potential sponsors, and generally get to move up in the world. You’ll also learn a lot more about competitive fishing and the community than you could from local tournaments and derbies.


It’s optimal to have plenty of experience both with normal bass fishing and competitive bass fishing before you think about dropping the money on exorbitant Major League bass fishing fees. Taking this slow climb to the top approach will help you develop those skills and experiences to give you the best chance possible when you do get to that level. Your competition won’t be random locals with wild pub stories. They’ll be proven pros who know what they’re doing and are confident they can win on a national level.

To help you improve your bass fishing skills, it’s a good idea to download and explore the BassForecast fishing app. It’s got everything from detailed maps that will help you research areas beforehand, to in-depth real-time data, spot-on solunar, and tips to help you make the most of every spot. If you want to get on the pro level, BassForecast can help.