Last season's BASSfest at Chickamauga Lake was a first for the Bassmaster Elite Series. The five-day event at Dayton, Tenn., was conceived as a way for fans to enjoy a summer gathering the way it used to be when the Bassmaster Classic was held that time of year. It was a combination of competition and festival.
BASSfest will be back in 2015, but the format will include two significant changes when it's held June 3-7 at Kentucky Lake near Paris, Tenn.
— Bassmaster Opens anglers will be invited again, but only the top 10 in each division, instead of the top 20 invited last year – a total of 30, rather than 60.
— Elite Series anglers will earn points, just as is done in other Elite events. Last year every angler who participated was awarded 100 points.
Two key features of the original format will be retained. There will be a day of special seminars and opportunities to meet the pros on Day 3. And the Second Chance Tournament will be held again. Every angler below 50th place will have an opportunity to remain in the competition and earn at least $10,000, if they finish in the top 10 of the Second Chance event on Day 3 on nearby Barkley Lake.
"Our first BASSfest last year was a hit with our fans, our sponsors, our great host community and many of the anglers who participated," said Bruce Akin, B.A.S.S. CEO. "Like any new event, BASSfest offered some opportunities to make it even better, and that's why we made some changes to the size and format for 2015.
"We thought it would enhance the competition to award Angler of the Year points to the Elite anglers based on their finishes in BASSfest. For the same reason, we are inviting only the most successful anglers from the 2014 Opens to compete. We are expecting this year's event on Kentucky and Barkley lakes to be even more exciting."
The new format was met with mostly positive reviews from the Elite Series anglers.
"It was a neat opportunity last year," Shaw Grigsby said. "It's a tournament, and I love tournaments."
"I like this format better than the way it was done last year," said 1982 Bassmaster Classic champion Paul Elias. "It doesn't bother me if the Opens guys are out there. I've got no problem with that at all."
But some Elite Series anglers are bothered by the fact that Opens competitors will be included in this event, even though they won't figure into the Angler of the Year points formula.
"Unfortunately, this will affect the points," said Mark Davis, a three-time AOY champion. "I do not agree with this. I don't care if it's 60 or 30, it will affect the points for the 100 or so Elite guys.
"On the water is where they affect the outcome, if one of those 30 guys is in your way. You can't say it doesn't affect the points when you put 30 other guys in the field."
Seven-time Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam expressed a similar view, saying, "If you award Elite Series AOY points, I don't think anybody but Elite Series anglers should be in the field."
Skeet Reese, who won the AOY title in 2007, had a mixed review, saying, "I'm not in agreement with letting the Opens guys in, but at least there will be points this year."
The Second Chance event was viewed skeptically by most competitors before the inaugural event last year. But many of those who fished that day changed their opinion.
"I wish we had a chance to fish more tournaments like this," said Brent Chapman, after weighing-in at Nickajack Lake. "It was fun to compete for one day on a lake where very few guys had practiced."
For 19-year-old Skylar Hamilton of Dandridge, Tenn., it was the best day of his fledgling career. Hamilton finished first by catching his biggest bag ever – 25 pounds, 13 ounces – and his biggest bass ever – 9-15.
"I'm kind of glad now that I didn't do well at Chickamauga," said Hamilton, who was in 84th place with 9-13 after two days at Chickamauga Lake. "I wouldn't have gotten nearly as much recognition as I did by winning at Nickajack."