A look at who's in, out and on the bubble

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - With just days to go before the season opener, the CITGO Bassmaster Tour presented by Busch Beer looms large on the horizon, but BASS pros already are looking even farther ahead, to the Bassmaster Elite 50 series.

Starting Jan. 29, those anglers will battle not just for the Tour laurels, but also for the 50 berths in the all-new series of four no-entry-fee tournaments. The series, which has a $1.6 million prize structure of guaranteed cash purses, will invite a field less than a third of the size of the Tour's.

Those 50 anglers include 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Michael Iaconelli, who will be joined by the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year and the 2004 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year. The field will be rounded out by the top 20 anglers atop the BASS All-time Money List at the end of the Tour season and by the 27 anglers with the highest cumulative point totals from the 2002, 2003 and 2004 Tour seasons.

Few anglers enter the Tour season with the assurance of Denny Brauer who as the all-time money leader with more than $1.7 million over the course of his BASS career is all but guaranteed an Elite 50 ticket. But while he's grateful to be out of the qualification fray, Brauer isn't taking anything for granted, and had a word of advice for other pros:

"I think anybody that doesn't set getting into the Elite 50s as their goal isn't serious about bass fishing," Brauer said. "Getting entry into the Elite 50s will be your ticket to a lot of places. It validates your career as a professional fisherman.

"I'm just totally excited. To me, it's just the neatest thing that's ever happened."

Although Brauer is a lock, not all anglers are so fortunate. A few of the anglers who would qualify for the Elite 50s if the field were set today are sure to move around in the standings.

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.