KIMBERLING CITY, Mo. — As the inaugural season of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series ends, a new journey is about to begin for 37 anglers who on Sunday qualified for bass fishing's most major event — the 2007 CITGO Bassmaster Classic. They join three anglers who already qualified from the CITGO Bassmaster Southern Tour.
The highest-ranking anglers in the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings received invitations to the event, scheduled for Feb. 23-25, 2007, on Lay Lake in Birmingham, Ala. With more than 100 anglers in the Elite field, the spots were at a premium.
"When considering my career goals, [the Bassmaster Classic] is on the top of my list," said 2006 Toyota Rookie of the Year Steve Kennedy of Alabama, one of seven home-state anglers in the field. "With all the hype and the money that come with the event, this is one of those career-long goals."
Kennedy joins a star-studded field of accomplished veterans, including four-time Bassmaster Classic champion Rick Clunn and 25-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier Gary Klein. Other rookies who will compete are Bill Lowen of Kentucky and Jared Lintner of California. See the list below for the 40 Classic qualifiers to date.
In 2007, the Bassmaster Classic winner will receive $500,000 of a $1.2-million total prize purse. Anglers also benefit from the brand-building opportunities at the marquee event, which is televised on the ESPN networks.
Joining the 37 Bassmaster Elite Series qualifiers will be six anglers from the 2007 Federation Nation National Championship (Jan. 17-19, 2007; Neely Henry Lake); the three top anglers in points standings from the CITGO Bassmaster Northern and Southern Tours; and the champion of the 2007 ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series presented by Advance Auto Parts (Jan. 25-27, 2007; Lake Guntersville).
The 50-angler Bassmaster Classic field will fish on the 12,000-acre Lay Lake, site of both the 1996 and 2002 Bassmaster Classics. The 48-mile-long fishery, which was impounded in 1914, gave up a winning three-day tournament weight of 45 pounds, 13 ounces to angler Jay Yelas in the 2002 Classic.
But this is only the second time the Bassmaster Classic has been held in late winter and it may prove challenging for some anglers.
"This year, we had a truly full season and with the Classic, we'll fish in winter," said Rick Clunn, who won the 1976 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville in Alabama and qualified for a record 31 Bassmaster Classics.
"That's what I enjoy the most — seeing the talents of anglers that you didn't know were there because we hadn't fished through an entire year."
2007 CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualifiers to date
James Niggemeyer (Southern Tour)
Tom Hamlin (Southern Tour)
Boyd Duckett (Southern Tour)