If you have enjoyed the head-to-head, minute-to-minute, cast-to-cast action of Ultimate Match Fishing in the past, show founder and host Joe Thomas says you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Pitting 12 of the nation’s top professional bass anglers against one another in a unique, one-on-one format results in some heated competition.
“More than you would imagine,” Thomas said. “Most of the guys are friends and they compete. But even when guys have a good demeanor and they like each other, when you got 50,000 bucks on the line and it comes down to head-to-head competition, it will take the nicest guy and make him a real competitor.”
Ultimate Match Fishing returns to the Outdoor Channel for its eighth season this spring, kicking off on Sunday, April 6 at 3 p.m. ET. Episodes will air four times weekly. Check out outdoorchannel.com for more additional times.
The premise is a simple one: Two bass pros in one boat, each controlling the boat for two of the 1 ½-hour “quarters” while the other fishes from the back. At the end of the day, the fisherman with the heaviest stringer wins and advances to the next round of the bracket. The champion pockets $50,000.
A winning game plan, however, can be far from simple.
“There’s an infinite amount of strategy that goes into it, more dynamics and more scenarios than we could ever sit here and talk about in a day,” said Thomas, a former professional angler. “It’s literally like a boxing match or a wrestling match. It’s two guys, they’re going head to head. They’re not only competing against the fish, but they’re directly competing against each other, so you get a massive amount of personality. Good, bad or indifferent, it’s coming out.”
The winner of an opening coin toss elects whether he wants control of the boat for the first and third quarters or the second and fourth. The first-quarter clock starts with the opening cast, but the next period begins as soon as the previous one ends.
When the angler moves from the back of the boat to the front, he has the option of firing up and heading to new water – or staying put and utilizing information he acquired from a period of fishing behind his competitor.
“Obviously, there’s situations where a guy will take you to his best area and when the quarter break ends, you’ll see a guy take over the trolling motor and just stay in that area,” Thomas said. “That’s part of the game in Ultimate Match Fishing. Before you take a guy to your best juice, you better know that he can possibly use it against you.”
Unlike the usual professional/co-angler situations in major tournaments, the other person in the boat is a direct competitor. So don’t expect any help from the man on the trolling motor.
“You’ll see times that if a guy’s got the lead, he’ll shut the other guy down,” Thomas said. “You’ll see that happen in the fourth quarter, sort of like the quarterback taking the knee. You take the other guy out of it because if you continue to fish, he could always catch a 6-pounder out of the back of the boat.”
Anglers can get creative in developing ways to take productive fishing time away from their rival, even to the point of coasting deep into large no-wake zones, forcing their competitor to waste 15, 20 minutes of their period idling back out of the area once they regain control of the boat.
“I remember a match very specifically that we were on Lake Lanier in Georgia,” Thomas said. “David Walker ran about 45 minutes of his quarter to the very back end of a little creek where the water was rolling in. He caught about a 20-pound bag in about 12 minutes, one of the biggest flurries we’ve ever seen.
“As soon as he had that big sack of fish, he pulled his trolling motor up and he ran until the end of his quarter – 30-35 minutes, whatever it was – running in the other direction to take Scott Martin, who was in the back of the boat, away from that opportunity because the fish were loaded in there.”
For the 2014 season, the opening six matches were held on Lake Okeechobee in Florida. One of those matches – which pitted Scott Martin against his father, Hall of Famer Roland Martin – Thomas described as a classic.
“It’s one for the books,” Thomas said. “If the people don’t set their DVR for anything, they need to for that one between Scott and Roland because it’s truly epic. It really is.”
For final six matches, or the championship round, the anglers were on Lake Wilson in Florence, Ala.
“It’s kind of a sleeper lake, not a huge lake. It doesn’t get a lot of play,” Thomas said. “The fish were just in that pre-spawn transition. There were a few on the beds, some coming off the beds. It was a very good fishery for that match and it got very strategic.”
In addition to the Martins, the 2014 field includes Harold Allen of Shelbyville, Texas; Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark.; Stephen Browning of Hot Springs, Ark.; Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif.; Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C.; Jeff Kreit of Ardmore, Okla.; Ish Monroe of Hughson, Calif.; Jason Quinn of York, S.C.; Randall Tharp of Port St. Joe, Fla.; and Jacob Wheeler of Indianapolis.Another interesting aspect for Ultimate Match Fishing is it features fishermen from both of the major professional bass fishing tours in America, the Bassmaster Elite Series and the FLW Tour.
“It’s the only competition where you will see professionals from both tours competing against each other,” Thomas said.
Jeff Kriet is among the 12 pros battling head to head in UMF.
(Courtesy Ultimate Match Fishing)
Jeff Kreit, Ardmore, Okla. vs. Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C.
Stephen Browning, Hot Springs, Ark. vs. Randall Tharp, Port St. Joe, Fla.
Jacob Wheeler, Indianapolis vs. Harold Allen, Shelbyville, Texas
Stetson Blaylock, Benton, Ark. vs. Jason Quinn, York, S.C.
Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif. vs. Ish Monroe, Hughson, Calif.
Roland Martin, Clewiston, Fla. vs. Scott Martin, Clewiston, Fla.