CELEBRATION, Fla. — Lucky 7 plus one marks the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule. It’s the seventh year of the world’s premier competitive bass fishing circuit and with it comes seven premium venues for the world’s top professional anglers ... plus one “Mystery Lake.”
Whether you're looking for red hot largemouth fishing (Lake Okeechobee, Fla.), legendary lunker producers (St. Johns River, Fla., and Toledo Bend Reservoir, La.), world-class spotted bass fishing (Bull Shoals Lake, Ark.), giant smallmouths (Oneida Lake, N.Y.), a trip down America's greatest river (the Mississippi out of Wis.) or some late season drama (a special mystery venue in June), the 2012 schedule has it all.
The season kicks off with the 42nd Bassmaster Classic — the Super Bowl of bass fishing — on the Red River out of Shreveport, La. (Feb. 24-26). It’s the second time Shreveport and the Red River have hosted a Classic. In 2009, Skeet Reese bested the Red and 50 other competitors on his way to a $500,000 payday.
The 2012 Classic will be new in several significant ways. First, it will feature tournament winners from the 2011 Elite Series and Opens, not just the anglers with the highest points totals on those circuits. For another, the first Bassmaster College Bass Champion, Andrew Upshaw of Stephen F. Austin State University, will be competing against the pros, Federation Nation champions and the Weekend Series champion in the Classic.
After the Classic, the Elite trail heads to Palatka, Fla., for the season opener on the St. Johns River (March 15-18) — known throughout the region as the Bass Fishing Capital of the World. Who can argue? For decades, a 12-pound, 13-ounce largemouth caught on the St. Johns during the 1973 Florida Invitational stood as the largest in B.A.S.S. competition history. Last year, Edwin Evers sight fished his way to an Elite win with nearly 80 pounds over four days.
Just a few hours farther south is the second stop of the season at Lake Okeechobee (March 22-25) out of Okeechobee, Fla. The name is formed by two Hitchiti tribe words — “oki” (water) and “chobee” (big) — which are more than applicable. The Big O covers nearly half a million surface acres and is far and away the largest body of water on the schedule. This will be B.A.S.S.’ 20th stop at the giant lake, but the first for the Elite Series.
It’s been more than 20 years since B.A.S.S. last visited the next Elite destination — Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas (April 19-22) — but it has a storied history. B.A.S.S.’ first Bull Shoals event was in 1975 and it was won by Dee Thomas of California, the inventor of flippin’. With the victory — and a subsequent series of features in Bassmaster Magazine — flippin’ became the hottest technique on the Tournament Trail. It still is, in fact, and Bull Shoals is where the story broke.
On May 3-6, the Elites will be at Douglas Lake out of Dandridge, Tenn. It’s B.A.S.S.’ third trip to Douglas, where the legendary Rick Clunn picked up the 13th of his 14 career wins in 2001. That event was also in May, so Clunn may have the inside track on the pattern that will lead to Elite gold.
From Douglas, the Elites travel southwest to Many, La., and historic Toledo Bend Reservoir (June 7-10). In the 1970s and early ‘80s, “the Bend” was widely regarded as the best bass water in the country and a proving ground for many of the sport’s early stars. Today, it’s still a gem as evidenced by Dean Rojas’ 2011 Elite win with more than 70 pounds of bass over four days. This will be B.A.S.S.’ 14th visit to Toledo Bend and the second Elite Series event to be held there.
There is no more historic or prosaic body of water in the United States than the Mississippi River. La Crosse, Wis., is the site of the sixth Elite event of the 2012 season (June 21-24), and the beginning of the trail’s swing to the north. B.A.S.S. has held five professional tournaments on the Big Muddy, but only two of them were hosted by La Crosse, and the most recent of those was 28 years ago. That’s a lot of water under the city’s historic Mississippi River Bridge. Rick Clunn will be trying to recapture some of his 1983 magic when he won B.A.S.S.’ first tournament out of La Crosse. The only time the Elites have fished the river came in 2009 out of Fort Madison, Iowa, when Kevin Short won with 43-3 over four days in the stingiest Elite tournament in history.
After the history of the Mighty Mississippi, it’s time for some mystery. By this point in the season, the AOY hunt will be in full swing and only a handful of anglers will still have a chance at the crown with two tournaments to go. On June 28-July 1, however, there’s just a note to “save the date.” This tournament will not only have a big impact on the AOY race, but it will also be fought on a venue that the Elites will not learn of until it’s too late to do any extensive practicing or information gathering.
This tournament harkens back to the “mystery lake” format of the first six Bassmaster Classics, when the competitors didn’t know where they’d be fishing until the plane taking them there was in the air. The Elites of 2012 will have a little more advance notice, but only a little, and the one who can put together the puzzle the fastest will carry home the big trophy and check.
The season wraps up in Syracuse, N.Y., at Oneida Lake (Aug. 23-26). That’s where an Angler of the Year will be crowned and dozens of berths to the 2013 Bassmaster Classic will be determined. Frequently referred to as “The Thumb” due to its proximity to New York’s famed “Finger Lakes,” Oneida has been a popular B.A.S.S. stop in the last decade. In fact, B.A.S.S. has been here seven times since 2003, including three Elite tournaments. They were won by Tommy Biffle (2006), Dean Rojas (2008) and Chad Griffin (2009). Weights have always been considerable and consistent (between 63-10 and 65-10). Look for more of the same here in 2012 as the Bassmaster Angler of the Year award and more than 30 Bassmaster Classic berths are decided in New York and the last two weigh-ins of the season are held at the New York State Fair!
|Notes:||B.A.S.S. has held nine previous events on the Red, including the 2009 Classic won by Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., with 54 pounds, 13 ounces. The 2012 Classic will be new and different in several significant ways. First, it will feature winners from the 2011 Elite Series and Opens, not just the anglers with the highest points totals on those circuits. For another, the first Bassmaster College Bass Champion, Andrew Upshaw of Stephen F. Austin State University, will be competing against the pros and Federation Nation champions in the Classic. Finally, since 2009 champ Skeet Reese didn’t qualify for the 2012 championship, we’re guaranteed to have a different winner.|
|Venue:||St. Johns River|
|Notes:||B.A.S.S. has held 17 professional level events on the St. Johns, most recently the 2011 Elite Citrus Slam won by Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., with 77 pounds, 1 ounce. On a historical note, at the 1973 Florida Invitational on the St. Johns, Bob Tyndal caught a 12-pound, 13-ounce largemouth that stood as the biggest in B.A.S.S. history for 24 years.|
|Size||470,000 surface acres (about half the size of Rhode Island!)|
|Impounded:||Natural with many levees and dikes|
|Notes:||B.A.S.S. has held 19 professional events on Okeechobee. The most recent was a 2010 Bassmaster Southern Open won by Elite angler Chris Lane of Guntersville, Ala., with a three-day total of 41-2. The 2012 tournament will be the first Elite Series event here. Okeechobee is a popular venue with the Elite anglers. Rick Clunn, Paul Elias, Tim Horton, Gary Klein, Chris Lane, Terry Scroggins and Byron Velvick have all won here.|
|Venue:||Bull Shoals Lake|
|Size||45,000 surface acres|
|Notes:||B.A.S.S. has held six previous events on Bull Shoals, but none (other than a 2006 WBT tournament) since 1991. Despite the small number, Bull Shoals has a big place in B.A.S.S. history. Dee Thomas, the inventor of flippin’, introduced the world to his technique by winning the 1975 Arkansas Invitational here. With the victory — and a subsequent series of features in Bassmaster Magazine — flippin’ became the hottest technique on the Tournament Trail. It still is, really, and Bull Shoals is where the story broke.|
|Size||30,000 surface acres|
|Notes:||B.A.S.S. has a short history on Douglas Lake, but it’s an interesting one. In 2001, Rick Clunn picked up the 13th of his 14 B.A.S.S. wins here at a MegaBucks tournament. In 2011, Bobby Ferguson won a Southern Open on Douglas in the first B.A.S.S. event he ever fished!|
|Venue:||Toledo Bend Reservoir|
|Size||185,000 surface acres (fifth largest man-made reservoir in the U.S.)|
|Notes:||Toledo Bend has been a very popular stop on the Bassmaster Tournament Trail over the years. Thirteen professional events have been held here, including the 2011 Elite Battle on the Bayou won by Arizona’s Dean Rojas with 70-15. In 1981, Roland Martin sandwiched wins at Lake Okeechobee (Fla.) and Lake Eufaula (Ala.-Ga.) around a win at Toledo Bend to become the first angler in history to win three B.A.S.S. events in a row.|
|Host:||La Crosse, Wis.|
|Notes:||B.A.S.S. has held five professional tournaments on the Mississippi River, but only two of them were hosted by La Crosse, Wis., and the most recent of those was 28 years ago. That’s a lot of water under the city’s historic Mississippi River Bridge. Rick Clunn will be trying to recapture some of his 1983 magic, when he won B.A.S.S.’ first Mississippi River tournament out of La Crosse with 22-11 over three days. Kevin Short fared a little better in 2009 at the only Elite event to be held on the Mississippi (though further south, out of Fort Madison, Iowa) with 43-3 over four days in the stingiest Elite tournament in history.|
|Dates:||June 28-July 1|
|Venue:||It’s a secret ... for now.|
|Host:||We’re not saying, but they’ll be ready.|
|Impounded:||Some time ago.|
|Notes:||It’s been a while since B.A.S.S. had a tournament at a “mystery lake” — especially one of such potential magnitude. The first six Bassmaster Classics were held at mystery sites — qualifiers didn’t know of the location until they boarded a plane and were in the air — but that all ended in 1976. Since then, the mystery lake events have been rare ... until now. What makes this one special is the impact it’s going to have on the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. Since this will be the penultimate tournament of the year, the race will be down to just a few contenders, and since none will know of the destination until just before the practice period, finding bass quickly and figuring out how best to catch them right away is going to be paramount. The 2012 AOY race will be given a trial by fire.|
|Size:||51,072 surface acres|
|Notes:||Frequently referred to as “the thumb” due to its proximity to the New York’s famed “Finger Lakes,” Oneida has been a very popular B.A.S.S. stop in the last decade. In fact, B.A.S.S. has been here seven times since 2003, including three Elite tournaments. They were won by Tommy Biffle (2006), Dean Rojas (2008) and Chad Griffin (2009). Weights have always been considerable and consistent (between 63-10 and 65-10). Look for more of the same here in 2012 as the Bassmaster Angler of the Year award and more than 30 Bassmaster Classic berths are decided in New York.|