"It's the jewel everyone is after," Jones said. "Among your peers, it's probably the most sought after award and definitely the most difficult to win.
"Angler of the Year is a goal every fisherman has for their career. It solidifies your career as far as sponsors and fan base. ...You become a household name among fishermen."
Going into 2003's final Tour stop in Montgomery, Ala., Jones was one point ahead of his friend and eventual points champion Jay Yelas. Yelas captured the title and the $100,000 top prize by finishing ninth in the Tour finale, lifting him ahead of Jones, who lost ground by finishing 19th at the final tournament.
"I wish I would have walked through the door rather than had it slammed in my face (in 2003)," Jones said, "but I wouldn't have approached the season any differently. I'm approaching this season the same way. One fish at a time."
While the award has always been significant, in 2004 CITGO increased its worth, growing the total prize purse to $311,550, better than 50 percent larger than last year's $200,000 purse and more than 15 times larger than the 2002 purse of $20,000. Thanks to the influx of cash, the award will now pay the top 25 positions, compared to the top 10 spots it paid last season.
The resulting buzz makes last year's winner itch a little more for a repeat.
"You always want to try to be the best you can," Yelas said. "...It's a great opportunity for all anglers, though. It's one of the greatest titles an angler can win."
Besides the money and the title, the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year award is a qualification tool. The winner gains entry into the Bassmaster Elite 50 Series and an automatic berth in the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer.
"Until I won the Angler of the Year in 1997, I was fishing from year to year," said two-time award winner Davy Hite, who also took the title in 2002. "I struggled for sponsorship and everything. This title opens all sorts of doors because it gives your career credibility.
"Now, with the guaranteed spot in the Elite 50 (events), which is (a tournament series) we've been wanting for a long time, it adds to the rewards of the Angler of the Year."
The race for the title begins 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.