BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — With another season just three months away, B.A.S.S. officials announced the field for the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series has been set.
The prestigious circuit, which will feature higher payouts and lower entry fees than ever before, will consist of 75 anglers (about 40 fewer than last year), including three who have won both the Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods and the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.
The season-opening event is scheduled for Feb. 7-10 on the St. Johns River in Palatka, Fla.
“Every year when our anglers leave the takeoff site for the opening day of the first tournament, the excitement in the air is just amazing — and that will certainly be true this year,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin. “As in past years, we have some familiar faces who have already accomplished great things with us.
“Then, we also have some new anglers who are bound and determined to become superstars themselves.”
Missouri legend Rick Clunn, who owns four Classic trophies and the 1988 AOY award is back from last year’s Elite Series field, along with North Carolina pro David Fritts, who won the 1993 Classic and the 1994 AOY trophy. Jay Yelas, a veteran Texas pro who won the 2002 Classic title and 2003 AOY award, will also be joining the Elite Series after several years with other circuits.
Other big names returning from last year’s Elite field will be Keith Combs, a two-time B.A.S.S. winner who is right on the cusp of the $1 million mark for career earnings, 2016 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship tournament winner Seth Feider of Minnesota and Nevada pro Chris Zaldain, who holds two B.A.S.S. wins of his own.
Elite Series stalwarts John Crews, Mark Menendez, Bernie Schultz, Matt Herren, Clifford Pirch and Steve Kennedy are also back, along with 2018 Toyota Bassmaster Rookie of the Year Jake Whitaker. A final spot will be added based on the top finisher from the 2018 Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors.
The field will have a distinct international flavor with popular Australian pro Carl Jocumsen joining the circuit, along with Canadian pros Chris Johnston, Cory Johnston and Jeff Gustafson and Japanese angler Yusuke Miyazaki.
“We’ve got a great mix of competitors in every conceivable way,” said B.A.S.S. Tournament Director Trip Weldon. “We have anglers from all over the United States and a few from around the world. We’ve got established pros who have seen a little bit of everything and some young guys who have been waiting on the opportunity to make their dreams come true.”
After the kickoff tournament on the St. Johns River and a second event scheduled for Feb. 14-17 on Georgia’s Lake Lanier, the Elite Series schedule will pause for the Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods on March 15-17 on the Tennessee River in Knoxville, Tenn. Seven more regular-season Elites will be held between April and August, including the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest on May 2-6 at Lake Fork, Texas. Then, the season will conclude with the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, which will be held at a date and site yet to be determined.
The Bassmaster Classic, Texas Fest and the Angler of the Year Championship will all feature $1 million payouts with no entry fee.
Regular-season Elite Series events will feature a full field of 75 anglers for the first two days, 20 during the semifinal round and 10 on Championship Sunday. Instead of only the top half of the field being paid — as they were in the past — all participants will leave this year’s events with a check. The winner will still earn $100,000 and the prestigious blue trophy that has become synonymous with Elite Series victory, and the angler who finishes in 75th place will earn $2,500.
The popular Bassmaster LIVE show on Bassmaster.com, which generated over 2.8 million video views and 65 million minutes of content consumed by fans in 2018, will be produced all four days of 2019 Elite Series events instead of just the final three days of an event as in the past. There will also be live-streaming cameras on all 20 boats for the semifinal round, as well as Bassmaster LIVE cameras on all 10 anglers for Championship Sunday.
“We celebrated our 50th anniversary at B.A.S.S. this year,” Akin said. “But even after a half-century of excellence, we’re not slowing down in our efforts to create the best opportunities possible for all of our anglers.
“With the field we’ve just announced and the format changes we’ve made, we have some really exciting days ahead.”