Hartley, Auten and Lane qualified through the Bassmaster Southern Open circuit for the Feb. 22-24 Classic on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell. The three pros finished first, second and third, respectively, in the season-long points race, which ended Saturday at the Open’s final 2007 event on Alabama’s Wheeler Lake out of Decatur.
Points-race winner Hartley entered the Wheeler event in second, thanks to his third-place finish at the Kissimmee Southern Open in March and his second at the Santee Cooper event in May. With a solid 13th-place finish in Alabama, he skated to the win by a 27-point margin.
“It’s wonderful. Points winner is a great title to have on my resume — and I’m going to the Classic, a lifetime dream,” said the 43-year-old Hartley, a veteran Elite pro who’s been competing in BASS events since 1996. “I fished my first bass tournament when I was 8 years old, so I’ll be the proudest person there.”
He said he felt the turning point in his Classic bid was on the second day of the Wheeler competition.
“With about 15 minutes to go, I ran up to a dock and caught a really big fish, and I thought at the time that I might’ve made the Classic with that fish,” he said.
Auten, 41, a two-time Classic qualifier has scored a 13th-place finish in 2003 and a 34th in 1999 at fishing’s most major event.
“I feel good, but of course I wanted to win the points,” said Auten, who also finished second at the Wheeler tournament. “I can’t wait for the Classic. Lake Hartwell is only two hours from my house. It’s a great fishery, and I’ve done well in the past there.”
Lane, 33, will be competing in his first Classic alongside his brother, Elite Series pro Chris Lane of Winter Haven, Fla., who qualified on the strength of his position in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Standings.
“I’m very excited to see Chris in there, and I know he is to see me there,” said Lane, who’s about a year older than his brother. “But I was nervous today. My nerves haven’t been this racked in three years. But I made the Classic, qualified for the Elites, so life’s good.”
Only seven of the 50 Classic contenders are yet to be determined. Six will be BASS Federation Nation anglers who will qualify through their championship, Nov. 8-10 on Florida’s Lake Tohopekaliga, an event that will air on ESPN2 at 9 a.m. ET, Feb. 16, 2008.
The 50th Classic qualifier will be the winner of the Nov. 14-17 championship of the Bassmaster Weekend Series Operated by American Bass Anglers. That tournament will be on Georgia’s Clarks Hill Lake.
Elite Series Qualifiers In addition to their Classic berths, Hartley, Auten and Lane earned eligibility next year for the top level of competitive bass fishing, the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Hartley qualified in September through the Elite Series, but he now takes his eligibility through the Southern Open. Auten and Lane secured first-year Elite status.
Also receiving an invitation to join the Elite Series was the fourth-place finisher in the points race: Mark Davis, 44, of Mount Ida, Ark. Davis is a three-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year (1995, 1998 and 2001); he also won the 1995 Classic.
Elite Series pro Terry Scroggins, 38 of San Mateo, Fla., took the fifth Southern Open Elite spot. Already qualified for the ’08 Elite Series, Scroggins’ eligibility now channels through the Open instead of through the Elite Series.
Bassmaster Central Open and Southern Open sponsors: Sponsors include Toyota, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Lowrance Electronics and MotorGuide
BASS is the worldwide authority on bass fishing, sanctioning more than 20,000 events through the BASS Federation Nation 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 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 530,000 members. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.