Sunday's finale of the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic saw four anglers among the top 10 who likely won't return to next year's Bassmaster Classic, as they will be fishing the competing FLW Tour instead of CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series.
The big fish among that group was Luke Clausen, who didn't register for the Bassmaster Elite Series. Unless Clausen decides to compete in either the CITGO Bassmaster Northern or Southern Tour and finishes no lower than third, BASS rules state, he won't have the chance to defend his title at the 2007 Classic.
If Clausen decides not to fish one of the Bassmaster Tour series, it will become the first time in the history of the Bassmaster Classic that a champion will not be able to defend his title.
Ron Shuffield, who placed third Sunday, George Cochran (seventh) and Larry Nixon (10th) also are among those who will move on to the FLW Tour. Shuffield said his decision was based on Bassmaster's $5,000 tournament-entry fees, which he sees as too high.
Cochran and Nixon have pointed to the increased schedule of as many as 14 events in a season as reasons to retire from BASS.
"We will miss each of them," said Trip Weldon, BASS tournament director. "They've been staples on the Bassmaster Tour for several years. We wish them the best."