CELEBRATION, Fla. — A veteran of more than 20 successful years of professional bass fishing, Paul Elias is a respected and popular angler who knows what he's talking about. So when Elias uses the word "awesome" to describe fishing the new CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series, it isn't to be taken lightly.
The 54-year-old Pachuta, Miss., angler is one of the latest top BASS pros to announce his plans to fish the Elite Series in 2006. The normally quiet and reserved Magnolia State resident gets excited when talking up the 11 Elite Series stops and attached awards. The Elite Series — with the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, Bassmaster Majors, and contingency programs — will award $11 million in 2006. Plus, the Elite Series will visit such fisheries as Lake Amistad and Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas, Santee-Cooper in South Carolina and Lake Guntersville in Alabama, among others.
"Those first four tournaments are just going to be such a slugfest," Elias said. "There will be some awesome fishing in all of them. Rayburn is always good, and so is Guntersville."
Already, Elias pre-fished the Elite Series kickoff, the "Battle on the Border" on Lake Amistad in Del Rio. "It's going to be some awesome fishing there, and it will take a lot of weight to win it," he said.
Elite Series tournament fields are limited to approximately 100 of the world's best anglers, and Elias' BASS record certainly places him among the most elite in the sport. The winner of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic in 1982, Elias has five tournament wins and 119 finishes in the money in 246 appearances. His most recent BASS victory came in 2004 when he scored a win in his home state, taking the CITGO Bassmaster Open in Columbus, Miss.
"I like being able to compete against fewer people," Elias said. "It will definitely take pressure off the fish. And I'm really excited about fishing all the way through the season instead of concentrating so much in the spring." Unlike previous years, the Elite Series season will extend from March to September. "It will serve my interests better to do it that way. We're hitting the lakes at good times."
Though Elias has been preparing for the Elite Series — he has proposals out to several major companies to sponsor his boat wrap - he's also hard at work repairing his home, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. He said his current sponsors, including Triton Boats, Mercury Outboards, Motorguide, Mann's Bait Company, Berkley, The Water Gremlin Co. and Ultimate Smartlink, formerly Ultimate LureSaver, have supported him during a tumultuous time in his personal life.
Still, the Elite Series has given Elias something to look forward to in 2006. "I feel like ESPN has taken the sport to a new level," he said. "I just have the confidence that they're going to promote professional fishing and take it where it should be."