The basics of the Elite Series

BASS officials recently announced sweeping changes to its Bassmaster CITGO Tournament Trail, introducing the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series and defining it as an "unmatched level of competition for the best anglers and the most visible and premier professional bass fishing league in the world."

Now, the organization is shedding more light on the specifics of this new series and what it means to anglers and fans. "The Elite Series is all about elevating bass fishing to a level it has yet to achieve," said Don Rucks, BASS vice president and general manager. "The quality of the competition and terrific locations, coupled with the high stakes associated with the prize purse, makes this the most premier Series today."

Elite Series is an 11-event bass fishing tournament series where ultimately 100 of the world's best anglers will compete for a $100,000 first-place prize at each event. More importantly, the total boater prize purse is a whopping $7,404,650 for the Series. The Elite Series pays down 50 places, with 50th place earning $10,000. Meanwhile, non-boaters will vie for a piece of a $1,269,400 total series prize purse.

"The top 50 anglers have an opportunity to make a lot of money," said Kevin VanDam, the current CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion. "I see a lot of positive steps taken here. This is the first competition plan that I see long-term benefits to."

When the Series kicks off March 9-12 on Lake Amistad near Del Rio, Texas, all anglers will fish the first two days of the tournament. After Day 2, the field will be cut to 50 and after Day 3, the field will be cut to 12. The final day of each of the 11 tournaments will be televised on ESPN2 and chronicled on the show "CITGO Bassmasters," offering more exposure to anglers and helping build their individual brands. And officials believe audiences will be watching. In fact, 9.4 million viewers tuned in to the telecasts of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic this year on ESPN and ESPN2.

"It gives us a lot more exposure and opportunity to showcase our sponsors and, hopefully, that will open up more opportunities," said South Carolina pro angler Davy Hite. "With television, you get huge numbers and it makes a big difference to the popularity of the sport when people can see it on TV."

Though BASS anticipates a field of more than 100 anglers in 2006, only 100 anglers will compete in 2007 and beyond. That reduced size will help anglers garner more sponsors, according to California pro Ish Monroe. "The fact that you're in the top 100 of all-time great fishermen, it'll be better for those guys sponsorship and endorsement-wise."

Because the Elite Series is meant to create a prestigious group of the world's best anglers, the following competitors will be invited:

• The five previous Classic winners

• The five previous CITGO Bassmaster Anglers of the Year

• The top 70 in total point standings from the prior year

• The top 5 anglers on the Northern Tour

• The top 5 anglers on the Southern Tour

• The top 10 anglers in a second-chance qualifier tournament

Also new in 2006 is the Bassmaster Elite Series card, which offers anglers aid in sponsor recruitment and retention and provides access to career-building success classes. "We want to give this elite group of anglers all the tools they'll need to go out and be successful in the sport," said Rucks.

"This is a monumental season," said Rucks. "Between the prize purse, seasonality, prestige and television coverage, we believe we're taking bass fishing and its anglers to the next level."