Fishing vet Morgenthaler experiencing new horizons

Column by Larry LaGrange

Pro bass angler Chad Morgenthaler has Jasper connections. Chad, who recently signed a new two-year sponsor agreement with Jasper Engines, has been involved with JET for a number of years, and the relationship benefits both. He works with their national marketing and social media, and he does hospitality trips as well. For its part, JET gets more national exposure.

A previous column about Chad gave some of his background and thoughts on JET and professional bass angling with the FLW tour (Fishing League Worldwide), but some things have changed.

“My FLW year wasn’t stellar,” the Reeds Springs, Missouri angler said, “but it wasn’t terrible. I finished 50th in points. I did make the championship in another tour called the Costa series, finishing in the top 20. That’s the way it goes.”

Chad’s best tournament was in January at one of his favorite lakes, Florida’s huge Lake Okeechobee, where he finished seventh. On the flipside, he says he’s “still haunted” by his poor performance at Smith Lake in Alabama, his worst tournament of the year.

Smith’s weather and lake levels “threw me a curve ball,” he said. “I didn’t adapt well to the changing conditions. It put me out of running for the Cup Championship. It was disheartening. I like the lake; I’ve won money there before. Blueback herring are the baitfish there, and I didn’t realize that quickly enough. Wish I had a redo.”

But, new horizons have beckoned. A shakeup in the pro bass tournament world has seen several fishermen leave the BASS Elite trail and cast their lots with the new Major League Fishing tour. That has opened up slots in the Elite, and Chad has happily filled one.

“The usual BASS field of around 106 anglers is now 75,” Chad said, “and I’m happy to be a part of it again. I’ve fished six BASS Classics (end of season big money tournament for those qualifying), and I’d love to try for a seventh. I like the Elite schedule; it has some places I’ve done well at and some I haven’t. But some of the best tournaments I’ve had have been to lakes I’d never been to. One just needs an open mind and go for it.”

The reduced field allows more marketing for each angler, more cameras in the boats, and more live streaming from day one to day four. And hopefully more money for each entrant.

The competing MLF Pro Bass format counts every catch over a pound, and then the fish is released. Heaviest weights for the day win and advance, even if you catch 50 one-pound bass.

“I’m old school,” Chad said. “I like going for the five heaviest, and the weigh in is a good show with crowd interaction. The MLF tour won’t have this, but then there is no fish mortality because of the immediate release. This format is made for TV and live streaming, but over the long haul I’m not sure how it will play out. The BASS weigh-ins are exciting, often drawing thousands to watch and cheer. And people like to see big bass.”

BASS has not lost sponsorships, Chad said. The money is there. Johnny Morris, the Bass Pro Shops founder, has said he will support the Elite tour even though he’s a major player in the new tour, along with tackle manufacturer and pro fisherman Boyd Duckett.

According to Chad, Duckett had the original MLF idea of fishing two hours in three segments, with breaks in between. That helps for angler comfort, but more stress is put on by the accompanying boat marshall giving the angler constant updates on how the other anglers are faring. When you’re not doing that well, you cringe when you hear how some other guy is catching one after the other. Only eight to ten MLF guys are fishing at one time, and lower performing anglers are eventually eliminated. The location of the lake is kept hidden until the guys arrive at the boat ramp in the pre-dawn hours. They are then given a map of the lake and allowed time to run around checking things out before the fishing starts.

Chad said that BASS has made some things friendlier for its new anglers. The entry fees have been lightened and made more convenient to pay, and money awards have been improved, even down to 50th place.

“An additional $4,000,000 has been added to the purses,” Chad noted. “It’s a huge chunk for fewer guys. Also, BASS officials listened a little closer to participants’ complaints of unfriendly travel. If there are two West Coast tournaments, they needed to be back to back, so the driving would be less of a killer. When guys left, it was a wake up call. BASS realized they had serious competition, and they made corrections.”

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