Bondy and Merkin will fish the Series as rookies, meaning they are in contention for the $25,000 Toyota Rookie of the Year award as well as the more than $11 million in the tournament series, the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, the Bassmaster Majors, the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year program and other contingencies.
Bondy said his 12 previous BASS tournaments and dozen years spent as a fishing guide on Lake St. Clair- part of the Great Lakes system - was adequate preparation for 2006. “My entire life has been geared towards becoming a professional angler on the BASS circuit,” Bondy said. “My ultimate goal is to make a Classic.”
Bondy hopes to reach that goal – and enhance his career – through the Elite Series. “This is where I can secure my career and garner the sponsorships that everyone wants.”
Both Bondy and Merkin are coming off successful 2005 Northern Open campaigns, finishing 14th and 19th respectively in the Northern Open points standings. Because of their solid performances, both were invited to fish in the Elite Series. “The Series gives anglers a tremendous opportunity to fish at the highest level under a media spotlight,” Merkin said.
Like Bondy, Merkin feels his joining the Elite Series might help him secure big-name sponsors. Merkin is currently part of the Skeeter Boats team, but said he is approaching his contacts with major pet medicine and pet food companies to sell space on his boat wrap. “I tell them we won’t have any other veterinarians in the Elite field,” Merkin laughed.
Bondy, who’s fished in 24 BASS tournaments, is sponsored by Mercury Marine, Champion Boats, K&E Tackle, Inc., mail order hunting supply company D&R Sports Center, Pflueger Fishing Tackle, All Star Graphite Rods, marine antenna company Shakespeare Electronic Products Group and Deka Batteries.
Both have qualified for the 2005 CITGO Open Championship on the Alabama River, Dec. 1-4 in Prattville, Ala. The top five participants from the Open Championship qualify for the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla., on Feb. 24-26.
Other 2006 Elite Series anglers invited from the Northern Open circuit are Ohio’s Frank Scalish, Virginia’s Rick Morris, Pennsylvania’s Paul Hirosky, Maryland’s Darrin Schwenkbeck, Kentucky’s Bill Lowen and Oklahoma’s Ken Cook and David Smith.
The complete 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series schedule is:
The Southern Sprint #1 March 9-12 Battle on the Border - Lake Amistad, Del Rio, Texas #2 March 16-19 Lone Star Shootout - Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Jasper, Texas #3 March 30 – April 2 Santee-Cooper Showdown - Santee-Cooper, Manning, S.C. #4 April 20-23 Southern Challenge - Lake Guntersville, Guntersville, Ala. #5 May 4-7 Pride of Augusta - Clarks Hill Reservoir, Columbia County, Ga.
The Turn #6 June 1-4 Sooner Run - Grand Lake, Grove, Okla. #7 June 15-18 Bluegrass Brawl - Kentucky Lake, Kentucky Dam Village, Ky.
The Northern Swing #8 July 6-9 Empire Chase – Oneida Lake, Syracuse, N.Y. #9 July 13-16 Champion’s Choice - Lake Champlain, Plattsburg, N.Y.
The Final Charge #10 Aug. 10-13 Capitol Clash - Potomac River, Charles County, Md. #11 Sep. 14-17 The Rock - Table Rock Lake, Kimberling City, Mo.
The 2006 Bassmaster Majors schedule is:
May 18-21 Bassmaster Memorial on Eagle Mountain Lake, Fort Worth, Texas July 27-30 Bassmaster American on Lake Wylie, Charlotte, N.C. Aug. 24-27 Bassmaster Legends on the Arkansas River, Little Rock, Ark.
BASS is the worldwide authority on bass fishing, sanctioning more than 20,000 events through the BASS Federation annually. Guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans, BASS sets the standard for credibility, professionalism, sportsmanship and conservation, as it has for nearly 40 years.
BASS stages bass fishing tournaments for every skill level and culminates with the CITGO Bassmaster Classic. Through its clubs, youth programs, aquatic resource advocacy, magazine publishing and multimedia platforms, BASS offers the industry's widest array of services and support to its nearly 550,000 members. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208 or visit www.bassmaster.com.