The sport of professional bass fishing is very alive and well, judging from entries in the 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series, the world’s premier fishing tour.
When registration closed Tuesday, 112 anglers had signed up to compete in the nine-event, $6.3 million circuit. It’s the largest field since the inception of the Elite Series in 2006. Participation has hovered around 100 each year since 2008, when 109 anglers competed.
“The demand for the Elite Series has been incredible,” said Bassmaster Tournament Director Trip Weldon. “Not only is this the largest field we’ve ever had, but it may be the strongest. It’s loaded with talented, world-class anglers.”
B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin noted that attrition in the Elite field was exceptionally low this year, and commitment rates from the qualifying circuit, the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Series, were the highest ever.
“It speaks volumes about the importance and impact of the Elite Series that 96 out of 100 Elite anglers wanted to return this year, and that 14 of the 15 Opens qualifiers have accepted invitations,” Akin said.
In addition to the 110 anglers either remaining in the Elites or joining for the first time, two veteran Elite anglers are returning from hardship exemptions, raising the total to 112, Weldon said.
Although the 14 Opens qualifiers are technically considered “rookies” on the Elite tour, Weldon said that’s not an accurate description.
“Several of the newcomers have been standouts on other circuits,” he pointed out. “Randall Tharp, for example, won the FLW championship this year, and he has won three Bassmaster Opens in his career, including back-to-back victories in 2008.”
In addition to the new qualifiers, the 2014 field is studded with champions of the sport, including 11 former Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year winners and 11 Bassmaster Classic champions. Two-thirds of the competitors have won Bassmaster tournaments at some level. Led by Kevin VanDam with 20 wins, they have amassed a total of 248 victories.
Akin said the popularity of the Elites Series among professional anglers mirrors its popularity among fans. “We set new attendance records in 2013, when more than 125,000 fans attended Elite events,” he said. “We expect to build on that momentum in 2014 with great anglers, great locations and great fisheries.”
Forty-three of the Elite anglers will kick off the 2014 season by competing in the Bassmaster Classic Feb. 21-23 at Birmingham and Lake Guntersville, Ala. The entire field will compete in eight Bassmaster Elite Series events beginning with the opener March 13-16 on Lake Seminole, Ga., and including stops on the St. Johns River, Fla.; Table Rock Lake, Mo.; Toledo Bend Reservoir, La.; Lake Dardanelle, Ark.; Lake Chickamauga, Tenn.; the Delaware River, Pa.; and Cayuga Lake, N.Y. The Chickamauga event June 12-15 features a million dollar payout, and it’s part of a fan festival in Dayton, Tenn., billed as “BASSfest.”
The Elite season culminates with the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship tournament in which the Top 50 anglers in the points rankings will compete for a share of the $900,000 AOY purse.
Following are the 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series anglers. An asterisk after the listing denotes a newcomer to the Elite Series.
Tracy Adams, Wilkesboro, N.C.*
Casey Ashley, Donalds, S.C.
Scott Ashmore, Broken Arrow, Okla.
Joel Baker, Talala, Okla.*
Josh Bertrand, Gilbert, Ariz.
Tommy Biffle, Wagoner, Okla.
Glenn Browne, Ocala, Fla.*
Stephen Browning, Hot Springs, Ark.
Brandon Card, Caryville, Tenn.
Brent Chapman, Lake Quivira, Kan.
Hank Cherry, Maiden, N.C.
Jason Christie, Park Hill, Okla.
Rick Clunn, Ava, Mo.
Keith Combs, Huntington, Texas
John Crews, Salem, Va.
Cliff Crochet, Pierre Part, La.
Mark Davis, Mount Ida, Ark.
Ott DeFoe, Knoxville, Tenn.
Kurt Dove, Del Rio, Texas
Boyd Duckett, Guntersville, Ala.
James Elam, Tulsa, Okla.
Paul Elias, Laurel, Miss.
Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla.
Todd Faircloth, Jasper, Texas
Grant Goldbeck, Boerne, Texas
Shaw Grigsby Jr., Gainesville, Fla.
Greg Hackney, Gonzales, La.
Charlie Hartley, Grove City, Ohio
BJ Haseotes, Centerville, Mass.
Kevin Hawk, Guntersville, Ala.
Matt Herren, Trussville, Ala.
Kenyon Hill, Norman, Okla.
Brett Hite, Phoenix, Ariz.*
Davy Hite, Ninety Six, S.C.
Jamie Horton, Centreville, Ala.
Tim Horton, Muscle Shoals, Ala.
Randy Howell, Springville, Ala.
Michael Iaconelli, Pittsgrove, N.J.
Kelley Jaye, Dadeville, Ala.
Alton Jones, Lorena, Texas
Kelly Jordon, Palestine, Texas
Steve Kennedy, Auburn, Ala.
Mike Kernan, Wylie, Texas*
Kotaro Kiriyama, Moody, Ala.
Gary Klein, Weatherford, Texas
Jeff Kriet, Ardmore, Okla.
Bobby Lane, Lakeland, Fla.
Chris Lane, Guntersville, Ala.
Russ Lane, Prattville, Ala.
Kevin Ledoux, Choctaw, Okla.
Brandon Lester, Fayetteville, Tenn.*
Jared Lintner, Arroyo Grande, Calif.
Bill Lowen, Brookville, Ind.
Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala.*
Aaron Martens, Leeds, Ala.
Billy McCaghren, Mayflower, Ark.
Mike McClelland, Bella Vista, Ark.
Mark Menendez, Paducah, Ky.
Jared Miller, Norman, Okla.
Yusuke Miyazaki, Forney, Texas
Ish Monroe, Hughson, Calif.
Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C.
Chad Morgenthaler, Coulterville, Ill.*
Rick Morris, Virginia Beach, Va.
David Mullins, Mount Carmel, Tenn.*
John Murray, Phoenix, Ariz.
Britt Myers, Lake Wylie, S.C.
James Niggemeyer, Van, Texas
Takahiro Omori, Emory, Texas
Cliff Pace, Petal, Miss.
Brandon Palaniuk, Rathdrum, Idaho
Chad Pipkens, Holt, Mich.
Clifford Pirch, Payson, Ariz.
Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala.
Pete Ponds, Madison, Miss.
Chip Porche, Bixby, Okla.
Jacob Powroznik, Prince Grove, Va.*
Cliff Prince, Palatka, Fla.
Matt Reed, Madisonville, Texas
Skeet Reese, Auburn, Calif.
Derek Remitz, Grant, Ala.
Marty Robinson, Lyman, S.C.
Dean Rojas, Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
Trevor Romans, Plano, Texas*
Scott Rook, Little Rock, Ark.
Fred Roumbanis, Bixby, Okla.
Zell Rowland, Montgomery, Texas
Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky.
Joseph Sancho, New Windsor, N.Y.*
Casey Scanlon, Shawnee Mission, Kan.
Bernie Schultz , Gainesville, Fla.
Terry Scroggins, San Mateo, Fla.
Morizo Shimizu, Osaka, Japan
Kevin Short, Mayflower, Ark.
Fletcher Shryock, New Philadelphia, Ohio
Michael Simonton, Fremont, Ohio
David Smith, Del City, Okla.
Brian Snowden, Reeds Spring, Mo.
Jeremy Starks, Scott Depot, W.Va.
Gerald Swindle, Warrior, Ala.
Randall Tharp, Port Saint Joe, Fla. *
Dennis Tietje, Roanoke, La.
J Todd Tucker, Moultrie, Ga.
Jonathon VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich.
Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich.
Byron Velvick, Boerne, Texas
Greg Vinson, Wetumpka, Ala.
David Walker, Sevierville, Tenn.
Nate Wellman, Newaygo, Mich.
Jason Williamson, Aiken, S.C.
Kenneth (Boo) Woods, Oneida, Ky. *
Chris Zaldain, San Jose, Calif.
Image courtesy Bassmaster