2020 Bassmaster Opens field may be toughest ever

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Brandon Palaniuk
Brandon Palaniuk is one of many established pros fishing the Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens in 2020.

Imagine you’ve just launched your boat before takeoff at a 2020 Basspro.com Bassmaster Open.

You look over your right shoulder and see Florida pro Scott Martin, winner of eight FLW Tour events and the famous son of legendary fishing star Roland Martin.

Over your left shoulder, you see Alabamian Gerald Swindle and Idaho star Brandon Palaniuk — a couple of guys with three Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles between them. As you look all around, you notice established pros are everywhere.

Such is the state of the Bassmaster Opens this season.

“Our field is absolutely loaded for the 2020 season,” said Chris Bowes, tournament director for the Bassmaster Opens. “We have eight events scheduled in two divisions — the Eastern and the Central — and we have more than 50 anglers who have registered to fish all eight events.

“A lot of them are household names in the fishing world. It’s going to be fun for fans to watch those established anglers compete against some of the top young newcomers in the business as well as some of the best local sticks in every town we visit.”

The reasons for the stacked field are obvious.

First, there have been massive changes in the pro fishing industry, and many FLW stalwarts like Martin, South Carolina pro Brian Latimer, Missouri veteran Randy Blaukat and Oklahoma pro Andrew Upshaw have decided to fish all eight Opens this year instead.

Martin said he’s doing it for a chance to someday win the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. It’s the one trophy his father, Roland, didn’t win during a storied career that included 19 B.A.S.S. victories, 102 Top 10 finishes and nine AOY titles.

Those fishing all eight events have also voiced interest in qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series as their new full-time circuit.

“B.A.S.S. is the name synonymous with professional bass fishing, and it always will be,” said Blaukat, who has won more than $727,000 in B.A.S.S. and $824,833 with FLW. “Being back with B.A.S.S. and making the commitment to the organization that was responsible for me manifesting my childhood dream of fishing professionally into physical form feels like the best decision I’ve made in my entire career.”

Other big names who have registered for all eight events include Oklahoma pro Jason Christie, who has five B.A.S.S. victories, and Ohio pro Charlie Hartley, winner of the 2016 Bassmaster Open on the James River and a two-time Classic qualifier.

Unlike previous seasons when B.A.S.S. offered just 10 Elite Series berths through the Opens, the organization will be offering 12 this year. The Top 4 anglers from the Eastern and Central Divisions will get invited, along with the Top 4 from the overall standings.

B.A.S.S. also announced today that an overall Angler of the Year title will be presented when all eight events are finished. 

The Falcon Rods Bassmaster Angler of the Year award will mean a $10,000 prize for the overall points winner in the pro division. The top co-angler will earn entry fees into the 2021 Opens division of his or her choice — a value of approximately $7,200.

“Competition among the anglers who have entered all eight is going to be heated — and it’ll be something to keep an eye on all season,” Bowes said. “You’re basically talking about some of the top anglers in the business going head to head on an eight-tournament circuit.”

Individual events will also include giant names from the world of pro fishing who are competing only in a few select Opens — not all eight.

For example, this week’s Eastern Open on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes will feature more than a dozen current Elite Series pros, including 2019 Bassmaster Angler of the Year Scott Canterbury and South Carolina angler Brandon Cobb, a two-time winner from last season.

“It’s the most interesting dynamic we’ve ever had for the Opens — and without a doubt, the toughest field we’ve ever had,” Bowes said. “Maybe the best thing about it is that there’s a young kid out there right now, ready to fish these events. He’s looking at the list, seeing all these big names and he’s not scared one bit. He’s just ready for the challenge. 

“To me, that’s what the Opens are all about.”