SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — After a long regular season that included four tournaments each in the Eastern and Central Divisions, six anglers are in prime position this week at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Championship.
Frank Talley, Brad Whatley and Toby Hartsell currently occupy the Top 3 spots in the Central Division standings, while Bobby Lane, Brandon Lester and Garrett Paquette lead the way in the Eastern Division. With decent performances this week on Table Rock Lake, those six anglers can lock up berths into the Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods by way of their finish in the season points race.
But there’s also a seventh Classic berth that can only be earned by winning the event — and that berth has fostered an all-or-nothing attitude for much of the remaining field.
“Coming into the tournament, I know I’m probably not going to make up enough points to get into the Top 3 in the division,” said Patrick Walters, a South Carolina angler who finished ninth in the Central Division standings and 11th in the Eastern Division. “I’m not going to get into the Classic without a win, so that’s the goal — to go out and win the tournament.
“That makes it so much fun when you don’t have to worry about all of that other stuff. I’m just out there to try and win.”
A field of 28 pro division anglers will fish Thursday and Friday with the top 12 advancing to fish Saturday. Daily takeoffs are 7:15 a.m. CT from Long Creek Marina. Weigh-ins the first two days will be at the marina at 3:15 p.m., with the final-day weigh-in shifting to the Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Mo., at 4:30 p.m.
The field will consist of the Top 10 anglers from each division points race and the winners of the eight regular-season Opens events. Qualified co-anglers will also compete all three days, but are not eligible for the Classic spots.
Florida pro John Cox is another angler taking a win-or-nothing approach.
“I looked at it and there’s no way I’m going to make it into the Top 3 in points,” said Cox, who currently ranks fourth in the Eastern Division standings. “The only way for me to make it into the Classic is to win the tournament or for one of the Top 3 in front of me to win.
“I could simplify things a lot by just going and winning. That’s the main thing — just get to the Classic.”
Louisiana pro Caleb Sumrall, who qualified for the 2018 Classic as the winner of the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, is eyeing a return via the automatic berth in the Opens Championship.
“There’s 21 points separating me from third place out of 27 possible points to be gained this week,” Sumrall said. “I would need the third-place guy to fall out, some miracles to happen.
“Instead of worrying about all of that, I’m just going to concentrate on winning. I’m gonna be fishing for six or seven big bites a day, and if it works out, it works out.”