Always something to fish for

With all due respect to their sponsors, no Bassmaster Elite Series angler wants to work the 2025 Bassmaster Classic Expo — they want to be in contention to win.

With three tournaments left in the 2024 season, it’s clear that more than a few of them better buy some comfortable shoes for the convention center floor. Nevertheless, as Cliff Prince proved at Wheeler, even when it seems like the race is over there’s always something to fish for.

It might be just bragging rights over your travel roommate, or requalifying for next year’s tour. It might be the ability to hold on to a sponsor or a career. In every case, there’s always the carrot of a $100,000 top prize. But in many respects the Classic reigns supreme. Getting there is a ticket to a bigger opportunity.

If we are assuming the 40th-place angler will be the cutline for Classic qualification, here are some of the factoids about the pros on the outside looking in at Lake Ray Roberts for the time being:

  • Three anglers who made the top 10 at the 2021 Classic on Ray Roberts are currently outside the cut, with Drew Cook (ninth at RayBob) the first man below the line.
  • Of the current Elite Series pros who fished that ’21 Classic, 29 of them are outside of the cut.
  • Six Texans are outside of the cut.
  • Four past Classic winners are outside of the cut.
  • Six past Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year winners are outside the cut.
  • Six of the top 10 from last year’s AOY are outside of the cut.

I can’t imagine there’s been a time in Elite Series history when there’s been this much uncertainty year-to-year about who will be in the big dance.

Remember when Rick Clunn made 28 Classics in a row? Or when KVD qualified for 24 straight? Obviously, those guys were world beaters, arguably the two best competitors in the sport’s history. Nevertheless we have plenty of great anglers around today who will someday be Hall of Famers who won’t compile streaks anywhere near that long. The competition, from top to bottom, is simply too strong, too even and too consistently revitalized by new injections of talent.

Don’t believe me? Eight of this year’s rookie class are currently inside the Classic cut. They’re cohabitating there with some of the following rejoinders to the lists from above:

  • Five anglers who made the top 10 at the 2021 Classic.
  • Two Texans who desperately want to hold on to those spots.
  • Three past Classic winners, including Justin Hamner who’d like to go back-to-back and both Jordan Lee and Hank Cherry who’d like to make it three big trophies.
  • Two AOYs in Brandon Palaniuk and Greg Hackney who’d like to “hit for the cycle” by adding the sport’s other major award to their resumes.

The good news for us fans: The tour is heading to three very fertile and very different fisheries, where all three major species of bass should play a role in the outcomes. There are lots of stories left to be told. Eventually, some very talented anglers will be left on the outside looking in, and that’s a healthy place for the sport to be.