BRANSON, Mo. — Chris Zaldain of San Jose, Calif., led the list of five anglers who qualified Saturday to move up in 2012 into the top tier of competition, the Bassmaster Elite Series, through the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open circuit.
With 804 points over the circuit’s three events of 2011, Zaldain wrapped up the season as the top angler.
The other Elite qualifiers were James Niggemeyer of Van, Texas, second with 743 points; Jared Miller of Norman, Okla., third with 742 points; Tommy Martin of Hemphill, Texas, fourth with 738; and Kevin Ledoux of Choctaw, Okla., fifth with 734.
Casey Scanlon of Lenexa, Kan., finished short of the top five, with 722 points. As the sixth-place angler, he would be the first one tapped for the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series if any of the top five decline the invitation.
Zaldain, 27, said he won’t be able to help out Scanlon on that score.
“I’ll definitely fish the Elites,” he said. “That’s why I joined the Opens this year.”
The 27-year-old competed this season after a six-year hiatus since the 2005 Western Opens. He wasn’t on hand at Saturday’s final Central Open weigh-in in Branson, Mo., to hear the news in person. Because he didn’t make the Saturday cut, he used the time to scout nearby Bull Shoals Lake, site of a 2012 Elite event, anticipating the need.
Miller, 27, who also said he’d accept the Elite invitation, headed home to get ready for the Nov. 3-5 B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship presented by Yamaha and Skeeter Boats in Monroe, La., on the Ouachita River. Miller is hoping to qualify for the 2012 Bassmaster Classic through the Federation.
Niggemeyer’s top-five points finish double-qualified him for the 2012 Elite season; he had finished 58th in Elite points when the 2011 season was over in June. His 2012 Elite seat will be taken through the Opens, not awarded to another pro.