FLW Series ‘investors’ checking their portfolios

I admit it. All the data is not in. But if the trends continue in the West’s last apparent chance at professional tour fishing, we might be closer to the sunset than the sunrise.

It’s nothing inherent in the FLW Series, mind you. They and the National Guard have done their part. The Series has delivered the buzz this year, and with three winners each taking home at least $100,000, who wouldn’t be excited?

I have always claimed it’s extremely hard to win, so you can’t be anything but happy for champions Mike Goodwin, Michael Rooke and Charlie Weyer.

Yet, I have been going over the numbers lately and they remind me of that warning you always hear from the brokerage firms: “Please read the entire prospectus before investing.”

So far, in the first three events, there have been a total of 263 pro competitors (investors) who paid at least one $3400 entry fee. Obviously, since Havasu posted 195 boats, the Delta 200 and the Columbia River 174, not everyone has fished all three. I did not go so far as to pull out every pro that only fished a single event, but keep in mind having fewer “tour” players actually skews the numbers a bit.

But I hearken back to some pre-tournament bravado when the prospect of this pro tour began to crystallize. I can’t tell you how many guys I heard utter, “If you’re any kind of fisherman, you know you’re going to make the top 50 (and it’s roughly $9000 payday).”

Many of these anglers, in fact, were using the “top 40” level as their standard, with its $10,000 pay point, suggesting they felt their inclusion into the professional ranks was eminent. But then I recalled another tidbit from those investor warnings: “Past performance is no guarantee of future success.”

Those who anticipated a tournament windfall, must have underestimated the “degree of difficulty” on a full-scale travel tour. There are unique water conditions, weather, draw numbers, outboard, electrical, vehicle or trailer issues, not to mention the standard stuff like bad knots, a momentary lapse in fighting a fish, or (could it happen to a pro?) a backlash at the absolute wrong moment.

And while I believe our top guys really are “top guys,” some on tour, I would estimate, are more like MLB rookies on a late season call-up. They’ve got talent, but still show some figurative “holes in their swings” when it comes to baits, techniques and related gear. But whether you want attribute finishes to skill or luck or lack of the latter— the published standings and earnings are what they are.

Which brings up a related matter. Although the entry fees are constant for all the pros, travel expenses vary widely, so my calculations don’t even factor them in. Nor do they consider the impact of being away from home for those who actually kept their day jobs. These fishermen surely found those precious vacation days going too quickly when used solely for towing a boat.

But here’s how my numbers look. Based on total pro entry fees of $10,200 for three tournaments, the good news is, just over 33 percent of the total number of pros have at least got their entry fees back. I think that’s a decent number.

But on the other side of the ledger, even though there were some real big money winners, it turns out that only 8 percent of all the pros averaged winnings of at least $9000 a tournament.

Another way of looking at it; the list of all those guys who actually did finish an average of at least 50th place add up to 21—just 21 pros. And of those, not all were chasing the tour—notably one Delta angler who scored a $40,000 finish and cashed in his chips.

The FLW Series is clearly high stakes bass fishing. But in reality, while some out there would quibble over opportunities or individual tournament payouts, some things never seem to change. Roughly the same number of guys (heck, it seems to be the same guys) excel in any given tour or tournament—and it’s just not very many.

That no one seems to dominate raises hope for many in the field. The fact that the three biggest money winners to date in the FLW Series stand in 33rd, 29th and 21st places, respectively, tells you that merely finishing “in the money” may not be a road to riches. Winning remains the biggest deal in the bass game.

So I worry. How many of the 66 percent who didn’t even cover entry fees (with another yet to pay) won’t be back next time around?

What are the investors saying?