When Luke Clausen won the first wintertime Bassmaster Classic on Lake Toho in February 2006, the natural assumption for many fishing fans was that he was about to become a full-fledged star on the B.A.S.S. circuit.
Then he walked away.
With a lucrative but complicated sponsorship deal already in place with Chevrolet and FLW, Clausen elected to remain on the FLW Tour where he’d already been a star for two seasons. He thrived with that organization and didn’t fish another B.A.S.S. event until 2010.
But now, after finishing 10th, 39th and 11th in three Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Opens this year, Clausen has qualified for the Elite Series – and he said he couldn’t be more pumped.
“I’m looking forward to going new places and fishing objectively for a change,” Clausen said. “FLW has been fishing a lot of the same lakes the past few years, and I’ve been going into tournaments thinking about where I had caught fish in the past. That’s just not a good approach.
“I want to look at some new water with a fresh approach.”
Clausen said he enjoyed his 12 years on the FLW Tour – and why wouldn’t he with nearly $1.7 million in career earnings? But he’s viewing the move to the Elite Series as a career jump starter for a number of reasons.
He’s been impressed with the recent changes B.A.S.S. has made with its on-the-water coverage. All Elite Series events in 2015 were broadcast live on Bassmaster.com from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
He believes the fan base at B.A.S.S. has grown, partly due to that live coverage, and he said he’s looking forward to the opportunity to promote his sponsors through that format.
Then there’s the 2016 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule. Clausen likes the idea of visiting fisheries in at least eight different states, including many that will be completely new to him.
“I’ve never fished the Mississippi River before, so I’m looking forward to going there next September,” Clausen said. “I’ve never been to the place in South Carolina (Winyah Bay), and I don’t think many other pros have either. So that’ll be an unknown for everybody.
“Plus, I really like the new format for the Arkansas tournament that will have us fishing two days on Bull Shoals and two days on Norfork.”
Competing against top-flight competition will be nothing new for Clausen, who scored 19 career Top 10 finishes and three victories in 12 years with FLW, including a $500,000 win in the 2004 FLW Tour Championship. He’s also had success on the B.A.S.S. stage with his Classic win in 2006 – his second career $500,000 payday – and 10 career Top 10 finishes.
Clausen has fished 57 B.A.S.S. events, dating back to 1999, winning $697,928.31. But before this season, he had trouble meeting the difficult qualification requirements to make it into the Elite Series. To reach the Elites, anglers must be among the Top 5 Open competitors in the final season standings for the Northern, Southern or Central Open divisions.
In 2013, Clausen started the Northern Open slate with a 21st-place finish on the James River. But he stumbled to back-to-back 60th-place finishes in the next two events and wound up 16th in the season standings.
He missed again through the Northern Opens in 2014, finishing fourth, 71st and 36th, but he did manage a ninth-place showing at the inaugural BASSfest on Chickamauga Lake. He was one of several Open anglers invited to BASSfest because of his finish in the 2013 Northern Open standings.
This year, he finished sixth in the Central Open season standings – and because current Elite Series pros Stephen Browning, Tommy Biffle and James Elam were already qualified ahead of him, he made the Elites as the third Opens angler in from the Central.
“I’ve fished against a lot of these guys before,” said Clausen, who finished fifth in the 2015 FLW Tour Angler of the Year standings. “I’ve been fishing the Opens for several years now, and a lot of the current Elite Series guys fish most of those. A bunch of guys from FLW have also migrated over to the Elite Series the past several years, and I obviously know all of them, too.”
Clausen hopes the Elite Series will be his longtime home.
“The format for promoting sponsors with B.A.S.S. is something that I believe will help me fish another 20 years,” Clausen said. “This is all I’ve ever done. I don’t know how to do anything else, and I probably couldn’t survive in an office trying to do something else.
“I’m looking forward to fishing for a long time.”