2014 Elite Series targets America’s hottest bass lakes

After a short break, the trail moves to Branson, Mo., and Table Rock Lake, April 3-6. “The Rock” has been the scene of 13 previous B.A.S.S. tournaments won by such legends as Bill Dance and John Powell, as well as several Elite anglers. In 2006, Todd Faircloth won what was arguably the toughest Elite tournament in history. But that was in September; fishing will be much better in April, and mixed bags of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass will show the versatility of this great fishery.

B.A.S.S. has been competing on Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Louisiana-Texas border almost since the lake began to fill in 1969. Considered the best bass fishery in America during the 1970s, “the Bend” is once again on everyone’s short list as a top fishery. May 1-4 will mark B.A.S.S.’s 15th visit to the lake and the ninth time Many, La., has played host. The most recent stops were Elite events in 2011 and 2012 won by Dean Rojas and Brent Chapman, respectively.

The fifth stop will be Arkansas’ Lake Dardanelle, May 15-18, the site of one of the Elite Series’ most dramatic tournaments in 2009. That year, Mark Menendez borrowed an aluminum boat and pushed and pulled the smaller, lighter vessel through a tiny culvert to fish an area bigger boats couldn’t reach. His extraordinary efforts paid off with an early spring win. In 2014, though, the tournament will be almost two months later, so different areas and methods will likely prevail.

Following Dardanelle, the Elites move east to Dayton, Tenn., and Chickamauga Lake, June 11-15, for the newest celebration of bass fishing, BASSfest. The weeklong, fan-friendly festival will be highlighted by Elite No. 6, to which some of the top Bassmaster Opens pros will be invited to test their skills against the best bass fishermen in the nation.

Dayton is known for the celebrated “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925, but to bass anglers, Chickamauga is famous as the site of the 1986 Bassmaster Classic won by the late Charlie Reed. Known for small, keeper bass back then, Chickamauga has “evolved” into one of the hottest big-bass fisheries in the nation, currently ranking sixth on the Bassmaster’s “100 Best Bass Lakes” list for 2013.

When George Washington crossed the Delaware River in 1776 to surprise Hessian troops occupying New Jersey, there’s no record that he stopped to do any bass fishing. For that, we’re actually grateful. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what the Elite pros will be doing when they take off from Philadelphia, Pa., Aug. 7-10. It’s the City of Brotherly Love, the city that gave us famed fictional prizefighter Rocky Balboa, and the old stomping grounds of 2003 Bassmaster Classic champion Mike Iaconelli. But you can bet that when Ike strikes the famous Rocky pose on the weigh-in stage and lifts his hands in the air, he’ll have two good bass in them.

Elite No. 8 will be held on Cayuga Lake out of Ithaca, N.Y., Aug. 21-24. Cayuga is one of the famed “Finger Lakes” and has hosted just one previous B.A.S.S. event — a 2012 Northern Open. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo teased the event in August, when he announced to the crowd at the Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown at St. Lawrence River in Waddington, N.Y., that one of the Finger Lakes would host an Elite event in 2014. An avid fisherman, Cuomo also noted that he will host a special “Governor’s Cup” bass tournament involving political leaders and celebrities in conjunction with the event.