Elite field expansion

The Bassmaster Elite Series is going to have a little different feel when we hit the water next month in Okeechobee, Fla., and the reason is that we’ll be fishing with a larger field size than we have had in quite a few years.

I’ve fished every Elite Series event since it began in 2006. I’ve seen the field at its lowest numbers and its biggest, and I feel like B.A.S.S. has it right. I’ve always felt like when we were at that magic number of 100 we had the best overall mix of competition and opportunity.

This year we will be at 104, which is the field size of 100 plus those who had exemptions of one kind or another. I’m looking forward to seeing how it shakes out. I think this number allows us to have a great mix of “wily veteran” and “rookie phenom” types that will give us great connection to the overall fanbase, allow for great financial opportunities for the anglers and allow us to compete effectively.

With the smaller field sizes we’ve had in the past, we didn’t necessarily have anglers from every region of the country for fans to get behind. This year we will have every region of the country and some from Canada and Japan. People can get some sense of a cultural connection to help them root for someone with some familiarity. I think that will help bring some added attention to the Elite Series which is great for attendance and viewership.

This size of the field helps make sure that the opportunities for earnings is enough that a guy can really make a living. With full fields the spread of the paychecks are fuller and that means cashing a check makes for positive gains on the business front. In the years when we’ve had smaller field sizes, those final paycheck places were smaller amounts. It made for less earning potential for the field than our current field size.

One thing this larger field can create is a little more challenge at finding room to fish on some of the smaller fisheries we go to. On large bodies of water it hasn’t really been too much of a challenge, even at our largest field size. But on some of those smaller lakes, being able to run a pattern can be tough because you can’t always expand what you’re fishing because there is likely to be someone on every good area.

I know that these lakes have bigger tournaments than ours, but those are typically one-day or maybe two-day events, and the pressure affects those anglers differently. In a four-day event like ours it can have an effect a little longer, but it’s part of what we have to deal with. Overall, I’m optimistic and hopeful that the size of the field this year doesn’t present too much of an issue on that topic.

The most positive part of our new field size is the opportunity it provides for anglers. Going into 2023, the Elite Series roster will include everyone from last season that wanted to continue fishing, and it will have some exciting new blood in the field. There are some very established anglers in this field who have great fan bases and love to compete on this level. In addition, the anglers coming out of the Bassmaster Opens are very good with their electronics. It should make for a great show.

As for my prep for the season, I’m studying up for the first couple of events at Lake Okeechobee and Lake Seminole. Okeechobee should be a different animal this year with high water spreading the fish out and making it a little challenging. It’s Okeechobee and there will be some really good fish caught, but finding them will be interesting.

I’ve spent several days in my career on Lake Seminole, and I’ve never really been comfortable there. It’s been a while, and I feel like my experience as an angler over the last decade has me looking forward to the event with a different level of confidence than I have before.

I’m getting my Bass Cat Puma STS and Mercury ProXS ready for the year and organizing my tackle because the season is just around the corner. I’m looking forward to it.