All-star lineup fills Elite Series field

CELEBRATION, Fla. — The world's most elite anglers who together have more than 150 BASS victories to their names will compete in the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series, BASS announced.

This elite group of anglers include:

• Nine CITGO Bassmaster Anglers of the Year representing 14 titles, including Aaron Martens, Gerald Swindle, Gary Klein, Tim Horton and Jimmy Houston

• Eight CITGO Bassmaster Classic champions representing 12 titles, including Rick Clunn, Michael Iaconelli, Takahiro Omori, Ken Cook and Paul Elias

• The top three all-time BASS money winners: Denny Brauer, Kevin VanDam and Rick Clunn. Collectively, they have earned nearly $5.5 million.

• 17 of the top 25 anglers in the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, including Ish Monroe and Kevin Wirth

• Two Horizon Award winners, including Davy Hite

• Greg Hackney, the Toyota 2004 Rookie of the Year

• The two BUSCH Shootout winners, John Murray and Brent Chapman

"This world-class group of Elite Series anglers are about to experience the next level in tournament fishing with BASS," said Don Rucks, BASS vice president and general manager. "Elite angler participation has more than exceeded our expectations. We're thrilled that so many anglers share our vision for the future of bass fishing and will enjoy the many benefits of the Elite Series, but we're not done yet. Only the first phase of the Elite Series registration has ended and we anticipate a minimum of a full field when the Elite Series debuts with the 'Battle on the Border' at Lake Amistad in Texas in March."

While guaranteed registration for qualified 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Tour and CITGO Bassmaster Northern Open pros has closed, more than 80 qualified CITGO Bassmaster Open Series anglers have the opportunity to register for the Elite Series. Any qualified Bassmaster Tour and Northern Open anglers who were unable to meet the Nov. 1 registration deadline will be added to an exclusive waiting list and notified of their status by BASS' Tournament department.

In October, dozens of anglers followed the lead of California's Skeet Reese, who was the first angler to accept his Elite Series invitation. Anglers including Dean Rojas, Alton Jones, Marty Stone, Shaw Grigsby, Scott Rook, Mark Tyler, Randy Howell, Kelly Jordon, Joe Thomas, Peter Thliveros and Stephen Browning subsequently signed up for the most elite bass fishing series for the most elite anglers in the world.

"The Elite Series is the best model we've ever had in the sport that will truly grow an angler's identity and offer a tremendous earning potential and opportunity," said reigning CITGO Bassmaster Classic champ Kevin VanDam.

2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Michael Iaconelli added: "The Elite Series is an evolution of this sport and I am crazy about it."

BASS announced the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series, along with the CITGO Bassmaster Northern and Southern Tours, in August. Each Series event pays down to 50 places with a $100,000 first-place prize and 50th place paying $10,000. Anglers will compete for the cash as they fish from their own sponsor-wrapped boats.

"Since the day we announced the Elite Series, we've been working to make it the premier professional bass fishing league in the world for anglers, their sponsors and fans that come to the tournaments and watch them at home on ESPN2," Rucks said.

Elite Series anglers automatically qualify for the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of Year program, which will award a record total of $600,000 to the top 50 anglers in the Elite Series points standings. First place receives $125,000.

Those anglers also are eligible to fish the new Bassmaster Majors, three stand-alone, no-entry fee competitions offering a total prize purse of nearly $2 million, including a $250,000 first-place prize per event. Each of the Majors' final day weigh-in will be televised the same day on ESPN2.

"I feel like I can make a lot of money next year," said Denny Brauer, the all-time BASS money winner.