In 2005, FLW Tour pro Joe Thomas started what has easily become one of the most-watched television shows in the history of competitive fishing – Ultimate Match Fishing. The show, pits 12 professional anglers from each of the major tours, the BASS Elite Series and the FLW Tour, against each other in a single-elimination format. Once the first elimination round is completed, the six remaining anglers are sent to the quarter finals where three pros advance on their merits and one wildcard is announced. These four anglers then participate in the semi-finals and the two winning anglers are then paired to the championship match.
UMF is seen by all, the viewers and the competitors, as some of the purest fishing there is. There are four 90-minute quarters and each angler gets control of the boat for two quarters. Prior to the match, a coin toss determines who will get boat control in what quarters. There are also penalties associated with casting in the other angler’s territory. Anglers are made to think both offensively and defensively.
Anyway, we’ve all seen the show so there’s no need to belabor it anymore.
So, what if I told you this concept wasn’t new? What if I told you it was originally conceived in the late 70s and actually ran on TV in the early 80s? Well, that’s what I’m telling you.
In 1978 a Texas bass angler by the name of Ewell Parker and some friends conjured up the concept to put top bass pros in a boat together and make them fish head-to-head in a single elimination format. Match Bass Fishing Inc. was founded in 1978 and shortly after started airing its show Challenge Match Fishing in 1979. By 1980 61 TV stations were airing the show in 37 states.
Ewell had experience in filming outdoor shows but the thought of filming a made-for-TV bass tournament was a daunting task. This format, though, was made for TV.
Each elimination round was made up of four one-hour quarters and each quarter was divided into two 30-minute periods. Each angler would get control of the boat for one period each quarter, thus having control of the boat for a total of two hours over the course of the match.
And, as in UMF, each angler had to fish his own area of the boat. A one-pound penalty would be assessed should an angler cast into his competitor’s side of the boat. Judges , placed in spectator boats around the competition boat, wore referee’s striped jerseys and timed the events along with making penalty calls. They also weighed the fish after each quarter to allow the viewers to keep track of who was in the lead.
I’m not sure if Joe Thomas knew of Challenge Match Fishing before he started Ultimate Match Fishing or not. He’s surely old enough to have been exposed to it assuming one of his local stations aired it. I also don’t know why Challenge Match Fishing didn’t make it longer than the three or so years it was on the air but I know one thing for certain, I’m glad Thomas picked up the idea (knowingly or not) and ran with it.