The 50 spots available for the four-event, no-entry-fee series are filled by the top 20 anglers on the BASS all-time money list, the top 27 anglers in cumulative points from the 2002, 2003 and 2004 seasons of the CITGO Bassmaster Tour presented by Busch Beer, as well as the 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion, the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year and the 2004 BASS Rookie of the Year.
Monroe's cumulative points for the 2002 and 2003 seasons put him a mere 86 points ahead of the last-place qualifier Kotaro Kiriyama of New Jersey, not much of a lead when you consider the caliber of competition that he'll be facing in 2004.
"It's nice to know that I'm in right now," Monroe said, "but I'm not going to fish like I have a cushion. Eighty-six points is nothing.
"The ultimate goal is always to make the Classic, but as long as you make it in the Elite 50, you're guaranteed a $20,000 paycheck with the opportunity for $100,000 or more."
With the shifting in points and money positions that will occur during the season, Monroe will reluctantly be keeping a close eye on the competition. Names further down on the points list from the past three seasons are sure to be brought into qualifying contention as the season wears on.
"I'm going to try my hardest not to, but I know I'll be looking at the (point) standings," Monroe added. "There are countless numbers of veterans that aren't in that I know could knock me out."
One such veteran is Tommy Martin. The 63-year-old Texan is currently on the outside looking in, but if he can move up two spots on either the money list or the points list, he'll be among the Elite 50.
"I was in the top 20 in money up until last year," Martin said, "but I just had a terrible year last year and I knew I fell out of it. I have to try to have a better game plan this year and slow down. I have to fish smarter, more consistently. I have to fish to catch a limit."
Martin wants his competition to succeed, but knows that someone in the top 27 in points will likely fall, possibly opening the door for him.
The only spot that is guaranteed is that of 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Mike Iaconelli, but the seven Tour pros in the "BASS Millionaires Club," those anglers with over $1 million in all-time winnings, will be all but impossible to unseat.
Tour pros such as Denny Brauer, Rick Clunn and Larry Nixon are a lock for the series with over a million and a half dollars in all-time tournament money, but there are others a little further down on the money list that may have to watch out.
Much like wild card battles in the NFL Playoffs, there will be anglers in the spoiler's role at the end of the season. Just as the Arizona Cardinals snuffed the Minnesota Vikings' hopes at a playoff run, the possibility exists that an angler could be bumped off of the list of Elite 50 qualifiers if they don't consistently perform down the stretch.
"The Elite 50 has been designed in a way that makes nearly everyone step up their game," said BASS Tournament Director Trip Weldon. "It makes you fish a little harder to get in to the series, and if you are in, it keeps you on your toes to try to stay in.
"It also makes the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year award and the BASS Rookie of the Year award that much more valuable. The winners of those two awards will also earn a spot in the four no-entry-fee events."
The race for Elite 50 berths will begin as soon as the Tour season opens on the Harris Chain of Lakes near Leesburg, Fla. Jan. 29-Feb. 1.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. This April, BASS introduces the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 Series, a four-event, no-entry-fee circuit featuring a $1.6 million prize purse for the world's best anglers. 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 and Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.