A 'classic' opportunity for the weekend warrior

Trip Weldon was once among them.

As a young man in Alabama, the current BASS national tournament director spent every available weekend traveling around the state to compete in every tournament he could find. His motivation was threefold — satisfying his competitive nature; pouring the footers for a future career; and making a few bucks along the way.

Weldon was the kind of bass fisherman BASS officials had in mind when they created the recently announced ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series.

"I can identify with them. Absolutely," Weldon said.

"A lot of us know what makes this person tick. A lot of us fished one day weekend tournaments for years. If you had to classify these people it would be working men and women; people who customarily fish one day events on weekends or some that fish both Saturday and Sunday. You have people starting out on the ground floor and have aspirations to go further with their career in fishing. And you have a lot of young anglers who will start out in both Federation ranks and the new ESPN Outdoors series."

The Bassmaster Series, which will debut in January 2005 gives America's weekend warriors a first class tournament venue that will include 80 one day events on Sundays that will pay out a whopping $4.2 million, based on a full field. The entry fee is $200 for boaters and $100 for nonboaters. Based on a full field of 200 anglers, first place is $6,000 for the boater and $3,000 for non-boaters. Each tournament will have an all-cash total payout of $43,200.

In the Series format, boaters will be paired with nonboaters, using a blind drawing. (All participants must be current BASS members.)

Anglers competing as boaters will be allowed to bring in a maximum of five bass. Nonboaters will be allowed to bring in three fish — plus share the weight of their partner, a rule designed to increase teamwork on the water and encourage participation by inexperienced fishermen.

The Series will include four regions (with expansion planned for 2006). Within those regions, four divisional trails will include five tournaments each season. The tournaments will be held in sites ranging from Grand Lake, Okla., to Lake Champlain, N.Y., to Florida's Lake Okeechobee.

The Weekend Series will eventually send one angler to the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic. The winner of the Series Championship event, which will pay $100,000 to the top boater and $50,000 to the top nonboater, earns the ultimate prize.

"We are very proud to offer a tournament series that gives so much back to the core bass anglers who now have an affordable way to try tournament fishing with generous purses and great competition," BASS general manager Don Rucks said.

"Our dedicated group in Montgomery has spent a great deal of time working with sponsors, the BASS Federation and others to organize a series that lives up to the BASS brand and history. The ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series will meet and ultimately exceed expectations and add another dimension to our tournament trails."

"A lot of anglers have expressed interest in wanting BASS to start something like this," said Weldon. "Both Federation and non-Federation. It's something that has been talked about since ESPN purchased BASS and prior to that. I know BASS kicked around the idea for years, but never dove into it. Our sponsors certainly wanted (to fill) that niche. So it just all came together."

The Bassmaster Series will bring the highly professional tournament treatment that has been a trademark of the country's oldest and most prestigious fishing organization to the level of working men and women that are eager for top-notch weekend competition.

"The day that we saw that would be most beneficial and successful for us is Sunday," Weldon noted. "We're cognizant that there are a ton of tournaments held on Saturdays, and Sunday is a better day for us.

"It allows the working men and women, the majority of whom are off on the weekends, to come in on a Saturday evening, after getting in a practice day, and compete on Sunday. There are thousands of tournaments held on Sundays. This is nothing new."

The 2005 Bassmaster Series will include five tournaments in the following divisions: Georgia, Florida, Virginia/ North Carolina, North and South Alabama, Panhandle (Florida and Georgia), Oklahoma/Arkansas, South Carolina, Texas, Missouri, Tennessee/Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Thirty boaters and 30 nonboaters from each division will qualify for a no-entry-fee regional tournament in October and November, where the payout will be $107,250 per event. The top boater will earn $50,000; the top nonboater gets $25,000. The top 10 boaters and nonboaters move on to the Series championship

Interestingly, a special Second Chance Tournament will be held in November that will invite anglers who enter all five events in their division to compete. Although there will be no prize money involved, the 10 most successful competitors in both the boater and nonboater ranks will qualify for the championship.

The championship, which will be staged in the spring of 2006, will pit the 50 boaters and nonboaters battling for a share of a $350,000 purse — and the Classic invitation that will go to the top boater.

That alone separates the new Bassmaster Series from all other weekend circuits.

"Somebody coined the term here, which I think is totally appropriate, that this is a 'Classic opportunity,' " Weldon said.

Excitement building for Weekend Series

The new ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Weekend Series has been designed to work with and greatly enhance the popular BASS Federation system.

Not only will Federation tournament enthusiasts have more opportunities to compete, the Weekend Series events were scheduled to avoid schedule conflicts as much as possible.

"Certainly we worked with each state Federation president to develop the schedule to ensure that we did not bump heads with any state events," said BASS Federation Director Don Corkran.

"In fact, we moved four or five events to make sure that the Federation members would have the ability to fish the events. We continue to work with the Federation presidents to develop the dates for this series."

Louisiana BASS Federation president Kevin Gaubert is a big supporter of the new series.

"It's going to give bass fishermen that aren't members of the Federation a chance to see what bass fishing is all about," he said.

"This format is great. The combined-weight thing is going to draw a lot of interest and may ease the minds of a lot of anglers who are scared to go out and fish some places. It's kind of like another topping of icing on the cake. BASS has all of these things going for us right now with the Opens, the Tour, and now the grass-roots trails. There's plenty of opportunities for the everyday angler to get a taste of tournament bass fishing."

Corkran agreed: "It's a phenomenal opportunity, especially for a new Federation member or new fisherman in general. For a very small investment in money ($100), he gets to come into a tournament, learn new techniques, watch somebody who has been in the system longer than him with more experience, and not have to rely on his expertise. That's where the shared weight comes in." 

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