This time around, it is the third of four Bassmaster Elite 50 series events that takes to the water June 2-5. The Elite 50 Tour highlights an all-star line-up in the sport’s first no-entry-fee circuit with a guaranteed paycheck for every participant — a milestone in the sport. Also on the line at the end of the 4 event series are 10 invitations to the CITGO Bassmaster Classic this summer in Charlotte N.C.
The Elite 50 series marks the first time that an entire tournament trail matches the cream of the crop of today’s bass pros in limited-field events. These 50 top pros earned their Elite status through either their combined performance over the past three CITGO Bassmaster Tour seasons or based on a career of excellence that placed them atop of the BASS all-time money list.
Under the Elite 50 format, the entire field will compete on the Alabama River for the first two qualifying days before moving to a six-hole course on the river for the semi-finals and finals. This event is a showdown format in which the top 12 pros and amateurs will see their weights zeroed after the second weigh-in. The anglers will then rotate through a preset course on Friday. All anglers will receive one hour and 20 minutes per hole. The top-six pros will fish the course again on Saturday.
“I think this might be the best of the four places we have fished or will fish in the Elite 50s because of the nice-sized spotted bass and largemouth mixture,” said Alabama’s Gerald Swindle, the reigning CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year and the event’s local favorite. “In the summertime heat and (with) them pulling current, generally the spots bite. If the water remains low and clearing up, there might actually be some topwater fish caught in this event, which we haven’t had yet. That may be a bonus. Even though it’s the middle of the day, they still bite topwaters here if the water is clear and they can see it.
“I would look for the fishing on a scale of one to 10 to be around a seven or eight if I had to rate it. I still look at 15-16 pounds being a big one-day catch and maybe 10 pounds a day to make the cut.”
The Elite 50 pros who competed on the Alabama River in 2003 will find completely different conditions this time. Instead of the high, flooded river conditions that dominated last May’s tournament, it is at it’s usual early summer level.
“It was flooded and muddy last year, but we still caught them,” Swindle said. “It’s going to look totally different to these guys, totally different. All of that upriver stuff that Jay (Yelas) went to, you can never get back up there again. That’s done. That will all be solid rocks and rapids. You can’t even get within a mile or two of where he went.”
Last year, Texan Jay Yelas earned his first Angler of the Year title and finished ninth by navigating a set of rapids to reach the tailrace of the Jordon dam where he enjoyed a rare luxury in big-league tournaments — solitude. He was one of several pros who utilized jetboats (which do not use conventional propeller-drive outboards) to reach shallow bass sanctuaries in the river, a strategy that Swindle considers out of reach.
“Matter of fact, there’s probably going to be some guys (who) knock lower units off 8 or 9 miles downriver from that, trying to get up to where they think they can get,” Swindle said. “It’s pretty treacherous up in the upper end, and when it flooded like that it gave them a false sense of security because you think it’s deep everywhere. But at normal pool it’s pretty treacherous.
“Even the guys in jetboats are going to run into some snags trying to get up the river. And I don’t think a lot of them are calculating that it’s almost 30 miles up there. So it will be almost an hour run in a jetboat just to get there. So that’s going to be a time-killer, and gas consumption will be an issue.”
Yelas, however, is undeterred.
“I’m going to try to get back up there,” Yelas said. “I’m going to get a jetboat again because I doubt the river will be flooded again this year. That was really a fluke thing having the water so high last year. I might have company this time.”
Swindle looks for the most successful Elite 50 pros to score shallow.
“I think it’s probably going to be won flipping,” he said. “We haven’t had that hot of a summer and the fish haven’t made it out to their summertime patterns. There’s still a lot of fish around the bank. And the river has a lot of bank grass and other shallow-water cover. The fish will stay there as long as they can.
“So I look for it to be won flipping shallow — and maybe a few bites on a buzzbait, too.”
One pre-tournament favorite has to be Oklahoma’s Kenyon Hill, who won last May’s Tour event. He also took big-bass honors on three of the four competition days.
The daily launches will take place at Cooters Pond at 10 a.m. Daily weigh-ins will begin at 7:15 p.m. at the Stanley-Jensen Stadium and are free to the public.
THE CITGO BASSMASTERS ON ESPN2 Fans can catch the third event of the Bassmaster Elite 50 series on the Alabama River in two parts, Saturday, June 12 and Saturday, June 19 at 10:30 a.m. ET/9:30 a.m. CT on ESPN2.
THE BOTTOM LINE Immediately following the weigh-ins at all four of the Bassmaster Elite 50 events, fans will be able to see the results of the tournament on ESPN’s The Bottom Line, the crawling list of sports news, scores and updates at the bottom of the screen on ESPN2 and SportsCenter.
NEXT STOP The Bassmaster Elite 50 series will wrap up on the Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers in Paducah, Ky, June 16-19. Following that event, the top ten anglers in the Elite 50 point standings will round out the field headed to this summer’s CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer in Charlotte, NC.
BASSMASTER ELITE 50 CHAMPION Pros fishing in the Elite 50 series will be competing for Bassmaster Elite 50 points throughout the four showdown-style events. Anglers are awarded points based on their finishes in each of the four events. The tournament winner receives 300 points. The scoring decreases in 5-point increments to fifth place, 4-point increments through 10th place, 3-point increments through 15th place and 2-point increments to 50th place.