The dust has settled from the 2021 Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens season, but the repercussions will be felt for some time.
Twelve of the 677 competitors in the nine Opens received invitations to fish the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series while five earned berths to the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk.
Nick LeBrun of Bossier City, La., won the ninth and final Open of the year on Saturday. Bringing in the biggest bag on Championship Saturday at 17 pounds, 3 ounces, LeBrun totaled 50-2 to win the Central Open on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake. He earned $47,833 and, by fishing all three events in that division, qualified for the Classic.
“The money spends, but going to the Classic is a childhood, manhood, everything dream,” LeBrun said. “It’s going to take a while for that to sink in.”
On Friday, Jacob Powroznik, the 2014 Elite Rookie of the Year, secured his return to the top B.A.S.S. circuit. The pro from North Prince George, Va., finished 25th on Grand to complete his run to the Falcon Rods Opens Angler of the Year title. His steady season, in which he won at Smith Lake to earn a Classic berth and finished no worse than 59th, gave him 1,547 points.
For a seasoned pro who has five B.A.S.S. wins and several top finishes in the Elite AOY races, Powroznik, like Greg Hackney and Jason Christie the year before, said re-qualifying through the Opens caused major stress.
“It was the most nerve-wracking, emotional ride … There have been many mornings when I thought I was going to throw up,” he told Steve Wright for this post.
Powroznik leads the dozen anglers invited to the Elites, three from the overall standings and three each from the Central, Southern and Northern divisions.
Two Japanese anglers followed Powroznik in the overall, Masayuki Matsushita (1,446 points) and Daisuke Aoki (1,433). Matsushita, who won the Sam Rayburn Open in 2020 and fished the Ray Roberts Classic, continued his progression with a stellar season that included four top 20 finishes. Aoki, who finished in the money six times, won on Douglas Lake in April to earn a spot in the Lake Hartwell Classic, March 4-6.
Aoki was among those who needed a comeback after a poor first day on Grand. He fell three points behind Sam George in the overall AOY standings after Day 1, but he climbed nine places while George fell four spots on Day 2.
There were several others with dramatic moves on Grand Lake. Cody Huff of Ava, Mo., finished eighth on Grand to climb from sixth and end up atop the Central Open standings with 565 points. Jay Przekurat of Stevens Points, Wis., started the final tournament second in the AOY standings, fell to 11th after a subpar first day, then climbed 56 spots to 21st on Day 2 to finish second in points with 558.
Powroznik ended third in the Centrals, but his overall placing moved the Elite invite down to fourth-place Joseph Webster. The pro from Winfield, Ala., also had to make a comeback. Webster came in leading the division, dropped to ninth in points before jumping 27 places on Day 2 to edge former Bethel University angler John Garrett and Joey Nania, who won the Pickwick Open in May, by one point.
The three Elite invitations from the Southern Opens go to former Elite David Williams (577 points) of Maiden, S.C., 2018 College Classic qualifier Jacob Foutz (568) of Charleston, Tenn., and Josh Douglas (545) of Minneapolis, Minn.
The Northern Opens ended in a three-way tie atop the points with Jonathan Kelley of Old Forge, Pa., Mike Iaconelli of Pittsgrove, N.J., and Alex Redwine of Blue Ash, Ohio, all totaling 549. Iaconelli, the longtime Elite who won the 2003 Classic and the AOY in 2006, said he is contemplating a return to the Elites. Expect his answer around Nov. 9, when anglers can last declare intentions.
The five who fished all the events in their division and earned Classic berths were Nania, Powroznik and LeBrun in the Central Opens and Aoki and Keith Tuma in the Southern Opens. Tuma, of Brainerd, Minn., was the first qualify for the 2022 Classic when he won on the Harris Chain on March 6.
None of the Northern Open winners — Brandon Palaniuk on the James River, Bill Perkins on Oneida Lake or Cory Johnston on the St. Lawrence River — fished all three events so those Classic slots moved to Elite anglers in the AOY points. Tyler Rivet, who was 43rd in the adjusted points, is the last Elite in while Keith Combs is the first man out for the second time in as many years.
Matt Arey was afforded a berth via Hank Cherry’s double qualification as Classic champ and his point standing. Palaniuk’s win double qualified him and put Stetson Blaylock in the Classic. Taku Ito’s double qualification in points and by winning the St. Lawrence Elite and its win-and-in provision gave John Cox a Classic berth. Perkins winning in his first B.A.S.S. entry gave that Classic spot to Ray Hanselman, and Scott Martin took a coveted berth when Johnston won on his home waters in his only Opens entry on the year.
The final four spots in the 54-man Classic field will be filled in the next six weeks. The top three anglers in the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, Nov. 3-5 on the Ouachita River out of Monroe, La., will punch their tickets, then the individual champion of the Bassmaster Team Championship, Dec. 8-11 on Alabama’s Lake Eufaula will complete the field.
The 54 competitors will vie for the 2022 title and its $300,000 first-place prize on Lake Hartwell with Anderson and Greenville as host cities. It will be the fourth Classic held on the fishery.
2021 Opens winners
March 4-6, Harris Chain, Keith Tuma 58-13
April 15-17, Douglas Lake, Daisuke Aoki, 43-13
Sept. 23-25, Lake Norman, Cody Hoyle, 40-4
May 13-15, James River, Brandon Palaniuk, 53-12
July 29-31, Oneida Lake, Bill Perkins, 52-3
Sept. 9-11, St. Lawrence, Cory Johnston, 78-0
April 29-May 1, Pickwick Lake, Joey Nania, 58-2
Oct. 7-9, Smith Lake, Jacob Powroznik 37-9
Oct. 21-24, Grand Lake, Nick LeBrun, 50-2