2016 Elite Series: A river runs through it

I’m currently prepping for the Grand Lake Bassmaster Classic, and I’m looking forward to all the drama, suspense and intrigue that happens with every Classic. But I’m particularly pumped about Grand Lake for another reason altogether.

Just as Lake Hartwell’s Classic sort of set the tone for an offshore kind of year on the 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series, I have a pretty good feeling that the Grand Lake Classic is going to set the tone for a bank-oriented fishing year for the 2016 Elites.

When I look at the 2016 Elites Series schedule, all I can think about is, a river runs through it. No, I’m not talking about the famous fly-fishing movie with Robert Redford, I’m talking about the fact that almost half of the Elite Series this year will be held on rivers. And the other half the Elites Series is influenced greatly by rivers, too.

Okay, so I might be a little biased – or maybe a lot biased – I love rivers. More to the point, I love fisheries that fluctuate a lot with rainfall because bass in those fisheries tend to be more bank-oriented, just like me.

Last year the Elites went out West, where it rarely rains. Then we went to the Great Lakes where rainfall has little impact on the lakes. I mean, it can rain all year in Michigan and they’re still going to catch them the same way at Lake St. Clair.

But if you look at where we are going this year – boy oh boy! Starting with Grand Lake – it's a classic lowland impoundment that is totally dependent on rainfall in the Neosho and Elk River systems. And speaking of rainfall – we have had A LOT of it across the U.S. in the last six months. Grand has been high and muddy all fall and winter. Even if it falls to normal levels before the Classic, those high levels are like pushing the reset button on a lake like that. The fish are repositioning all the time as the water rises and falls.

Right after the Classic, the Elite Series starts on two river systems: the St. Johns River and Winyah Bay. Later in the year, it travels to two more river systems: the Potomac and Mississippi.

But rainfall and rivers are not all I’m fired up about when I see the 2016 schedule. When I look through the summer months, I don’t see a TVA Lake. Hooray! Hold on, I’m not hating on TVA lakes in the summer. After all, I won an Elite Series event on Wheeler Lake in June. But TVA lakes in the summer have gotten a bit redundant on tournament schedules, and we have all seen the issues that come with ledge tournaments, so I’m glad to see Wheeler is slated for the end of April when shallow fish should still be in play. In addition, I have noticed that BASSfest, which has been a TVA event the last two years, is now on Texoma – another lowland impoundment that will probably feature some shallow fish.

Other events I am relishing this year are Bull Shoals and Norfork. These lakes are not exactly high profile tournament stops for national circuits, and they are greatly affected by rainfall. 

And now for the finale, there are no Great Lakes to end the season. Again, I am championing this from a change-of-pace perspective. When tournament circuits become repetitive and redundant in terms of times and locations, things can get rather boring. The 2016 season will feature lots of twists, turns and fluctuations – just like the rivers that run through the 2016 Elite Series.