BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic in Houston next March will feature a star-studded field of professional anglers, including nine former Classic champions and six Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title holders.
With the addition of three “B.A.S.S. Nation’s Best” qualifiers from the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors, which ended Sunday, only one slot in the 52-angler field remains to be filled. That berth will be determined in the annual Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship, to be held Nov. 30-Dec. 3 on Kentucky Lake out of Paris, Tenn.
The 47th Bassmaster Classic will be held March 24-26 on Lake Conroe, Texas, which also hosted the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship last week. Ryan Lavigne of Gonzales, La., the B.A.S.S. Nation champion, gave fishing fans a preview of the quality of fishing anglers can expect from Conroe when he recorded 14 bass weighing a total of 58 pounds, 3 ounces, in three days of competition.
That weight would rank fourth among Classic winning weights since the advent of five-bass daily limits. At Conroe, as with other fisheries, fishing should be much more productive in the spring, when big bass move shallow.
Joining Lavigne as B.A.S.S. Nation qualifiers are Darrell Ocamica of Fruitland, Idaho, and Timothy Klinger of Boulder City, Nev. The three are among 10 Classic rookies, including John Garrett of Union City, Tenn., who qualified through the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops.
In addition to the grass-roots competitors, 47 of the qualifiers are seasoned professionals, and 41 of those are currently fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series, the world’s premier bass fishing league. Together they account for 12 Classic championships and 15 AOY titles. Kevin VanDam, who will be fishing his 26th Classic in Houston, has claimed the largest share of those titles — four Classics and seven AOYs.
Also leading the lineup are defending Classic champion Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., and reigning Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle of Guntersville, Ala.
They will be pre-tournament favorites on many Fantasy Fishing teams, but so will five qualifiers who hail from Texas. Keith Combs, an Elite Series angler from Huntington, Texas, probably has more familiarity with Conroe than anyone else in the field. He has won two championships in the Toyota Texas Bass Classic tournaments held on the lake.
Other Lone Star State fishermen are Todd Faircloth of Jasper, former Classic winner Takahiro Omori of Emory, 2009 champion Alton Jones Sr. of Lorena and his son, Alton Jones Jr., who qualified through the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens circuit.
The 51 anglers who have qualified so far represent 20 states ranging as far west as Idaho, California and Nevada, and as far north and east as Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Alabama is sending the largest contingent to the Classic — nine — while Texas and California account for five each.
Widely considered the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing,” the Bassmaster Classic offers a purse of more than $1 million, including $300,000 to the champion.
Weigh-ins will be held each afternoon, March 24-26, in Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. During the day, thousands of fishing fans will crowd into the 300,000-square-foot Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods in the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. All venues are free and open to the public.
Following is the current list of 2017 Classic qualifiers. The number in parentheses represents the number of times each angler has qualified.
Casey Ashley, Donalds, S.C. (8)
Drew Benton, Panama City, Fla. (1)
Hank Cherry, Maiden, N.C. (3)
Jason Christie, Park Hill, Okla. (5)
Keith Combs, Huntington, Texas (6)
Cliff Crochet, Pierre Part, La. (3)
Ott DeFoe, Knoxville, Tenn. (6)
Boyd Duckett, Guntersville, Ala. (8)
Brent Ehrler, Newport Beach, Calif. (2)
James Elam, Tulsa, Okla. (2)
Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla. (16)
Todd Faircloth, Jasper, Texas (15)
John Garrett, Union City, Tenn. (1)
Shaw Grigsby, Gainesville, Fla. (16)
Greg Hackney, Gonzales, La. (14)
Skylar Hamilton, Dandridge, Tenn. (1)
Wil Hardy, Harlem, Ga. (1)
Charlie Hartley, Grove City, Ohio (2)
Matt Herren, Ashville, Ala. (7)
Brett Hite, Phoenix, Ariz. (5)
Randy Howell, Guntersville, Ala. (15)
Michael Iaconelli, Pittsgrove, N.J. (18)
Alton Jones Sr., Lorena, Texas (18)
Alton Jones Jr., Lorena, Texas (1)
Steve Kennedy, Auburn, Ala. (8)
Timothy Klinger, Boulder City, Nev. (1)
Bobby Lane, Lakeland, Fla. (10)
Ryan Lavigne, Gonzales, La. (1)
Jordan Lee, Vinemont, Ala. (3)
Dave Lefebre, Erie, Pa. (2)
Jared Lintner, Arroyo Grande, Calif. (6)
Bill Lowen, Brookville, Ind. (9)
Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala. (3)
Aaron Martens, Leeds, Ala. (18)
Ish Monroe, Hughson, Calif. (10)
Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C. (3)
Darrell Ocamica, Fruitland, Idaho (1)
Takahiro Omori, Emory, Texas (12)
Brandon Palaniuk, Hayden, Idaho (7)
Clifford Pirch, Payson, Ariz. (4)
Jacob Powroznik, Port Haywood, Va. (3)
Skeet Reese, Auburn, Calif. (17)
Dean Rojas, Lake Havasu City, Ariz. (15)
Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky. (1)
Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn. (2)
Gerald Swindle, Guntersville, Ala. (16)
Randall Tharp, Port St. Joe, Fla. (4)
Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich. (26)
Jesse Wiggins, Cullman, Ala. (1)
Jason Williamson, Wagener, S.C. (2)
Chris Zaldain, San Jose, Calif. (3)