"This is like bonus time," said BASS all-time money winner Denny Brauer. "Everyone is guaranteed a paycheck and it's like the sport's moving forward into the big leagues. We now have got something that you can't buy your way into, you've got to earn your way there and I think that adds so much more credibility and prestige to it."
The lion's share of the $1.6 million purse will be distributed at the conclusion of the series in prizes that reward anglers for high finishes throughout the series. Even the last place contestant will earn a $20,000 check.
"Without a doubt, it is the professionalism that we've been looking for," said newly crowned CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle. "I think you're going to really see some guys showcase some talents and see some personalities come to the top and you're going to see a whole different way of promoting fishing. It's the next step, the big league. The major league is what we wanted. Well, now we've got it."
The format for the Bassmaster Elite 50 events will change a bit from the Tour events of 2004. The Elite 50 series is set up in a "Showdown" format. After the second day, the top 12 anglers will be separated from the rest of the field. Those dozen will fish a rotating series of six designated fishing holes. After day three, the 12 will be cut to the Super Six who will again fish the six-hole course. The remaining 50 anglers will continue to fish, however they will not be able to fish the six-hole course and they will be vying only for positions in the standings after 12th spot.
"I've never made a cut to be in the showdown format," said North Carolina pro Dustin Wilks. "I do like the format, though. You go to an area and you've got an hour to figure the fish out. You can't go back out to an area where you've smashed them three days before. It makes you think more and that's good. I'm just pumped up about it all."
Another difference in the Elite 50 series is weigh-in times. Tour weigh-ins took place in the late afternoon, but with the smaller field size and the excitement that will surround the events as well as the BASS Outdoors Sponsor Expo, the weigh-ins have been moved to the evenings. It is a change that Lance Peck, CITGO's Manager of Outdoors Sports Marketing, is thrilled to see.
"I think from the Expo standpoint, it's great," Peck said. "It opens up opportunities for many sponsors. More people can get to the weigh-ins. It's after working hours. It's great for the sport in general."
There's another exciting development for the Bassmaster Elite 50 series: final results will posted on ESPN's The Bottom Line, the crawling list of sports news and scores found on the bottom of the screen on ESPN and ESPN2 programs. The results of all four Elite 50 events will be seen on the Bottom Line on ESPN2 and SportsCenter immediately following the conclusion of the weigh-ins.
"This is another prime example of ESPN's dedication to the sport and getting timely information to the fans who care deeply for it," said Dean Kessel, Vice President and General Manager of BASS.
In a effort to help give back to the local communities where the Elite 50 events are held, a new program called BASS Targets Hunger will also be introduced. BASS will collect canned goods donated by fans attending the weigh-ins and provide them to charitable organizations in all four Elite 50 cities.
In addition to BASS Targets Hunger, Angel Anglers will make it's debut at the first Elite 50 event. This is a new program by BASS in which pro anglers will visit local hospitals prior to their first practice day to sign autographs for patients.
Also at the first Elite 50 event, ESPN the Truck, the fully interactive ESPN experience, will be at Lake Dardanelle April 15-17. Fans will be able to create a SportsCenter audition CD-rom of their own, take home their photo on the cover of Bassmaster Magazine, download the latest in ESPN programming, and enjoy the latest breakthroughs in sports television technology, firsthand and free of charge.
Following the Lake Dardanelle event, the four-event Bassmaster Elite 50 series travels the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in Columbus, Miss., May 19-22, to Prattville, Ala., on the Alabama River, June 2-5 and concludes on the Ohio and Cumberland Rivers in Paducah, Ken. June 16-19.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass-fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Associate Sponsors include G3 Boats.
Local Sponsors include Russellville Advertising and Promotion Commission.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.