JASPER, Ala. — There’s just one day left in the 2012 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens season, and it should be a good one. The Central and Northern Opens are complete, but here in Jasper, Ala., the B.A.S.S. world is focused on the final day of the Southern Open series on famed Lewis Smith Lake. Befitting its position as the final day of the season, it looks like it’s going to come down to the wire. A weight of just 22 ounces separates first and fifth place.
In the lead is local favorite Craig Daniel of nearby Cullman. He leads North Carolina pro and Elite Series hopeful Hank Cherry by just 4 ounces. Kevin Hawk of Guntersville, Ala., the Day 1 leader, is just 6 ounces off the pace.
In all, six of the 12 finalists call Alabama home, including four of the Top 5. Deep, clear reservoirs dominated by spotted bass (e.g., Smith Lake or Georgia’s Lake Lanier) tend to favor the locals who know where every brush pile is planted, and that’s certainly been the case here. The Alabama pros are on the inside track to win.
Of course, one of the big perks for winning an Open is the automatic berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake, Okla., Feb. 22-24. But to get that golden ticket, you must win and have fished all three Opens in the division. Daniel hasn’t done that, nor has fourth-place angler Brent Crow of Hartselle, Ala. They’re fishing for the trophy and the prize package — more than $50,000 in cash and a boat and motor package.
The other 10 finalists have fished all three Southern Opens and would qualify for a Classic spot if they win. Three of them are already Classic bound. Chris Lane (seventh going into the final day) is triple-qualified as defending Classic champ, winner of the Harris Chain Open in January and through Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points, where he was 14th. Gerald Swindle (currently fifth) and David Walker (11th) are also Classic bound through AOY points.
If Lane, Swindle or Walker can win here, they’ll earn a nice payday and the eternal gratitude of Bassmaster Elite Series pro Scott Rook, who would get a Classic berth by virtue of their multiple qualifications. Rook is currently on the bubble and needs help to get to his ninth Classic.
The other race going on today is for points in the Southern Open standings. The higher you finish, the more points you get, and if you can finish the season ranked in the Top 5, you’ll get an invitation to join the 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series.
The Day 1 leader at Smith Lake, Kevin Hawk, is in great shape to join the Elites next year. By virtue of his Top 12 finish here, he’s locked into the Top 5 for the year and will almost certainly win the points title. The only way he could fall out of the top position is if he slips from third all the way to 12th and Jason Williamson jumps up from 12th to win the tournament. Of course, anything can happen, but that would be a very unlikely juxtaposition at this stage of the competition.
Here are the (very) unofficial standings for the Southern Opens points race:
1. Kevin Hawk (519)
2. Jason Williamson (499)
3. Greg Vinson (497)
4. Chris Lane (473)
5. Hank Cherry (473)
6. Clifford Pirch (469)
7. David Walker (464)
8. Kelly Jaye (447)
9. Luke Gritter (434)
10. Gerald Swindle (432)
Williamson, Vinson, Lane, Walker and Swindle are already in the Elites and don’t need to be re-invited. If they finish in the Top 5 in the points race (mathematically, Swindle can’t make up the ground), their invitation will go to the next ranking Elite Series angler on the AOY points list, not the Southern Opens points list. Thus, if the season ended yesterday, with the points as shown above, Hawk and Cherry would be invited to join the Elites, and the spots earned by Williamson, Vinson and Lane would go to the next-highest-ranking Elite angler who did not get an automatic re-invitation to come back to the Elites.
Clifford Pirch could move into the Top 5 if Chris Lane stumbles today, but Pirch won’t be watching the standings too closely. He’s already earned an Elite invitation after his second-place finish in the Northern Opens, so he’s all set.
Confused? Well, if you’re not, we still have one day left!