The allure of the Opens

As the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens season winds down (I’m currently in New York for the finale of the Northern Opens on Cayuga Lake), it’s as good a time as any to put the series in perspective and to “think out loud” about what the Opens mean to the sport and B.A.S.S. in particular.

The question that keeps coming up (Don Barone asked it at registration on Wednesday afternoon) is whether or not the Elite Series anglers should be allowed to fish the Opens. After all, they advanced through these same ranks and are now fishing the toughest tournament circuit in the world. Why not give some other guys a chance?

The real Elite edge

Well, first of all, the other guys do have a chance. Although a dozen or more Elite anglers seem to enter every Open and they win more than their share (including half of the six Opens held already in 2012), they don’t win them all.

Besides, the Opens are a path to the Bassmaster Classic. As long as that’s true, there will be Elites in the Opens. This year, Casey Scanlon won an Open and earned a berth in his first Classic. He’s not going to make it through the Elite Series, where he’s currently 88th in the standings and well out of Classic contention.

I think the biggest gap between the Elite anglers and the Opens anglers — at least as it applies to Opens tournaments — is that the Elites are better at fishing multiple day tournaments. Think about it. If you’re an avid tournament angler with aspirations of making it to the big time, how many multiple day tournaments (other than Opens) do you fish over the course of a year?

Probably not very many. Well, the Elites fish at least eight tournaments like that, and they fish them against the best competition the world has to offer. The have the stamina and condition for multiple day events, they have the experience, they know what sort of fish population they have to locate to hang in there for multiple days, and most of them don’t panic when things go slightly awry. They develop three or four productive patterns during practice, knowing that two or three of them will disappear during competition. They have a plan for when the wind blows and when it doesn’t, for when the sun shines and when it doesn’t, and for when they have to share their area and when they don’t. Those things are typically not true of the other anglers in the Opens, and it often shows.

The ultimate litmus test

Another reason I like seeing the Elites fishing in the Opens is that it gives the other Opens anglers a chance to test themselves against the best in the business. At any given Open, you might be up against Aaron Martens, Gary Klein, Chris Lane, Fred Roumbanis, Brent Chapman, Mike McClelland, Ish Monroe or someone else from the Elites. What better way to assess your talents than to see how you do against them on the same body of water at the same time?

And while you’re seeing just how you size up, why not walk over to one of them and introduce yourself, ask a couple of questions and maybe even learn something? It’s an opportunity to get better in several respects.

At the end of the event, if one of the Elites carries away the big check and trophy, chalk it up as a lesson learned. They really are that good. Bass fishing at the professional level is a learned skill. Maybe you still have a ways to go.

Why do you think they call them “Opens”?

An Open is not “open” unless anyone can enter. In golf, you or I could potentially compete in the U.S. Open … if we qualify. Every year, several amateurs get in and one or two of them do really well. It’s exciting. It’s a great story. It has wonderful tradition.

The Bassmaster Opens are a little like that, but far more “open.” If you have the entry fee, you’re in. It doesn’t matter if you’ve won a Bassmaster Classic or never even been in a boat. I like the name, and I love the concept. In what other sport can you compete against the very best with so few barriers? The only one I can think of (and it may not even be a “sport”) is the World Series of Poker. Pay your entry fee and get your seat assignment — right next to Phil Hellmuth Jr. or Doyle Brunson.

Ultimately, to keep the Opens “open,” Elite anglers need to be able to fish them, and they do so for a variety of reasons. Here at Cayuga Lake there are Elite anglers in the field because they’re trying to earn a Classic berth and have been fishing all the Northern Opens this year. Others feel they have a chance to win here and pick up a needed check. Several more are using this tournament as a tune-up for the Elite Event on Oneida Lake next week, hoping that it will fish similarly and that they’ll have an edge over the rest of the anglers who aren’t here.

To each his own, the Opens make a lot of sense for a lot of reasons to a lot of anglers.

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