CELEBRATION, Fla. — For professional BASS angler Davy Hite, the new CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series represents exactly what he is looking for in pro tournament fishing.
The new series, which debuts with the "Battle on the Border" at Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas, on March. 9-12, will offer big prize money and unprecedented media exposure in fields limited to less than 110 of the world's best anglers as they fish at 11 locations across America. For Hite, it's all about doing what's best for him as a professional, and that means fishing a high-payout league.
"BASS has an angler-friendly concept, and that's good, but deep down inside, I won't fish a tournament trail because of where the sites are," said Hite, who recently settled in Ninety Six, S.C., and has been a pro angler since 1993. "I did that years ago when I was doing it for a hobby and wanted to have fun catching fish.
"But at this level, whether I'm catching 6-pounders or 2-pounders, if I'm fishing for these kinds of dollars, I'm pumped," he said. "It's a bonus to be able to fish for big bass and I like the places we're going, but I get fired up for the chance to fish for big money, and the chance to be on ESPN2 on Saturdays."
Combining the Elite Series, the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, the Bassmaster Majors and the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year competition, along with other contingencies, BASS anglers will be fishing for $11 million in prize money in 2006. The Elite Series also is featured on the ESPN2 show, The CITGO Bassmasters, as well as in publications and on Web sites.
Hite's resume reads like that of a bass fishing superstar. He won the CITGO Bassmaster Classic in 1999 on the Louisiana Delta, and has won the Angler of the Year title twice, in 1987 and 2002. The 40-year-old Hite conquered six BASS events and finished second six times in 136 entries, scoring 32 finishes in the top 10. His career winnings exceed $1 million. Just last week, Hite finished in 16th place at the CITGO Bassmaster Classic. He's also ranked sixth on the Bassmaster Elite Series Power Index, catching an average of 24 pounds, 2 ounces each tournament.
With that kind of record, and having been a professional angler for more than 10 years, it's no surprise that Hite's awareness of the fishing industry is heightened.
"We have to be tuned in to the business side," he said. "I've learned that's one of the things it takes to be a successful professional fisherman. The majority of the men who have made a living at professional fishing have done it with sponsors. The sooner you realize that pro fishing is a business, the better off you'll be.
"The way they're doing the Elite Series gives us an awful lot of opportunity to make more money," he said. "It's hard for me to sell myself to a potential sponsor if they aren't going to be on TV. Wearing my jersey when I come across the scales on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and fish more with my own boat is important. It's huge to wear a certain logo or certain sponsor's name on national TV."
Hite's sponsors include Evinrude Outboards, Triton Boats, Pfleuger reels, All Star rods, Berkley Trilene fishing line, Berkley Gulp bait, Owner hooks, Solar Bat sunglasses, Pro Tour trailers and Hooah! energy bars and drinks.
In addition to the opportunity to fish for big money and to market himself and his sponsors, the sporting side of Hite looks forward to the strong competition expected in all of the Elite Series events.
"The BASS tournament trail and BASS have been the leaders in professional tournament fishing," he said. "It goes back to when Ray Scott founded BASS, they were the creators and leaders in the sport. The Elite Series is a good situation for professional anglers."