The 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series promises to be one for the history books. The 100 or so Elite Series anglers who compete on the nation’s premier bass tournament circuit will visit rivers, reservoirs and natural lakes in 11 states as they vie for fame, fortune and a berth in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
Several of the fisheries are steeped in B.A.S.S. lore, and the others soon will be.
“We’ve just finished an Elite Series season that saw record attendance, record Internet traffic and record media coverage,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin, “but we’re already looking forward to all that 2014 will hold.”
The Elite Series, which has included eight events for the past five years, will grow to nine tournaments next year, he added, and one of them will include a fan-attracting “BASSfest” reminiscent of the old summertime Bassmaster Classics and with a $1,000,000 prize purse.
And for the first time in Bassmaster tournament history, the ninth and final event of the Elite Series will be the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship in which the Top 50 Elite anglers will compete for a share of the $900,000 AOY payout, along with Bassmaster Classic berths and what many of the pros consider the ultimate prize, the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year trophy.
The Elite Series kicks off in Bainbridge, Ga., at Lake Seminole, March 13-16. Seminole has been the site of 13 previous B.A.S.S. events, including the very first tournament ever conducted under the auspices of B.A.S.S., fishing’s largest membership organization. Two earlier events were run by founder Ray Scott in 1967, but the organization had not yet been formally created. This will be the first Elite event on Seminole and the first B.A.S.S. event on its waters since a Bassmaster Southern Open in 2010.
From Seminole, the Elite anglers will head southeast to Palatka, Fla., and the St. Johns River, March 20-23, where 18 previous professional tournaments have taken place, including Elite events in 2011 and 2012. The St. Johns produced the first 10-pound bass in B.A.S.S. competition history in 1973, and double-digit fish could be plentiful at this springtime event. Edwin Evers won the 2011 Elite stop at the St. Johns, while Alton Jones took top honors in 2012.
After a short break, the trail moves to Branson, Mo., and Table Rock Lake, April 3-6. “The Rock” has been the scene of 13 previous B.A.S.S. tournaments won by such legends as Bill Dance and John Powell, as well as several Elite anglers. In 2006, Todd Faircloth won what was arguably the toughest Elite tournament in history. But that was in September; fishing will be much better in April, and mixed bags of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass will show the versatility of this great fishery.
B.A.S.S. has been competing on Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Louisiana-Texas border almost since the lake began to fill in 1969. Considered the best bass fishery in America during the 1970s, “the Bend” is once again on everyone’s short list as a top fishery. May 1-4 will mark B.A.S.S.’s 15th visit to the lake and the ninth time Many, La., has played host. The most recent stops were Elite events in 2011 and 2012 won by Dean Rojas and Brent Chapman, respectively.
The fifth stop will be Arkansas’ Lake Dardanelle, May 15-18, the site of one of the Elite Series’ most dramatic tournaments in 2009. That year, Mark Menendez borrowed an aluminum boat and pushed and pulled the smaller, lighter vessel through a tiny culvert to fish an area bigger boats couldn’t reach. His extraordinary efforts paid off with an early spring win. In 2014, though, the tournament will be almost two months later, so different areas and methods will likely prevail.
Following Dardanelle, the Elites move east to Dayton, Tenn., and Chickamauga Lake, June 11-15, for the newest celebration of bass fishing, BASSfest. The weeklong, fan-friendly festival will be highlighted by Elite No. 6, to which some of the top Bassmaster Opens pros will be invited to test their skills against the best bass fishermen in the nation.
Dayton is known for the celebrated “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925, but to bass anglers, Chickamauga is famous as the site of the 1986 Bassmaster Classic won by the late Charlie Reed. Known for small, keeper bass back then, Chickamauga has “evolved” into one of the hottest big-bass fisheries in the nation, currently ranking sixth on the Bassmaster’s “100 Best Bass Lakes” list for 2013.
When George Washington crossed the Delaware River in 1776 to surprise Hessian troops occupying New Jersey, there’s no record that he stopped to do any bass fishing. For that, we’re actually grateful. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what the Elite pros will be doing when they take off from Philadelphia, Pa., Aug. 7-10. It’s the City of Brotherly Love, the city that gave us famed fictional prizefighter Rocky Balboa, and the old stomping grounds of 2003 Bassmaster Classic champion Mike Iaconelli. But you can bet that when Ike strikes the famous Rocky pose on the weigh-in stage and lifts his hands in the air, he’ll have two good bass in them.
Elite No. 8 will be held on Cayuga Lake out of Ithaca, N.Y., Aug. 21-24. Cayuga is one of the famed “Finger Lakes” and has hosted just one previous B.A.S.S. event — a 2012 Northern Open. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo teased the event in August, when he announced to the crowd at the Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown at St. Lawrence River in Waddington, N.Y., that one of the Finger Lakes would host an Elite event in 2014. An avid fisherman, Cuomo also noted that he will host a special “Governor’s Cup” bass tournament involving political leaders and celebrities in conjunction with the event.
The Cayuga clash will be a make-or-break event, for only the Top 50 anglers in Toyota Angler of the Year points will go on to fish the Toyota Angler of the Year Championship Sept. 18-21. The location of the championship will be announced at a later date.
With the addition of the championship, Toyota All-Star Week will not be held next year.
Marshal registration for the Bassmaster Classic and the 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series begins online at Bassmaster.com for B.A.S.S. Nation and Life members on Oct. 1 at 9 a.m. CT. Phone registration for B.A.S.S. Nation and Life members begins Oct. 3 at 9 a.m. CT by calling 877-227-7872. Other B.A.S.S. members may register online beginning Oct. 8 at 9 a.m. CT and by phone beginning Oct. 10 at 9 a.m. CT.
Following is a list of 2014 Elite Series tournaments:
Feb. 21-23 : Bassmaster Classic
Lake Guntersville, Birmingham, Ala.
March 13-16 : Elite 1
Lake Seminole, Bainbridge, Ga.
March 20-23 : Elite 2
St. Johns River, Palatka, Fla.
April 3-6 : Elite 3
Table Rock Lake, Branson, Mo.
May 1-4 : Elite 4
Toledo Bend Reservoir, Many, La.
May 15-18 : Elite 5
Lake Dardanelle, Russellville, Ark.
June 11-15 : Elite 6
Chickamauga Lake, Dayton, Tenn.
Aug. 7-10 : Elite 7
Delaware River, Philadelphia, Pa.
Aug. 21-24 : Elite 8
Cayuga Lake, Ithaca, N.Y.
Sept. 18-21 : AOY Championship, To Be Announced
Logo courtesy B.A.S.S.