Elite Series Highlight

CELEBRATION, Fla. — "I think this is the future of bass fishing," professional BASS angler Mark Rogers says happily. "This is absolutely the way it should be."

 Rogers is referring to the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series, a new tournament trail debuting in 2006 that will feature 11 events awarding nearly $7.5 million in cash and merchandise to the most elite anglers in the world. Rogers — who qualified for the Elite Series by fishing the Bassmaster Tour in 2005 — takes his place next to Skeet Reese, Rick Clunn, Lee Bailey and Greg Hackney as one of the first anglers to register for the groundbreaking series.

 But Rogers is something of an Elite Series gambler: An angler that hasn't established himself as a household name but believes in his ability enough to compete with the world's elite.

 "This Series will feature the cream of the crop, similar to the PGA," the 33-year-old from Naples, Fla., said. "It's certainly gambling with the high entry fees, but this is no different than any past tournament structure."

 The stakes are high for Rogers, as his best BASS finish is ninth place (on the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Tour at the Harris Chain of Lakes). Now having competed in 32 BASS tournaments, Rogers is ready for the challenge.

 "The payoff potentially can be huge," Rogers said. "The main advantages with the changes are that anglers will receive increased media exposure and much more money in the end if they perform."

 So while Rogers is excited to fish with the most elite anglers in the world, he also is preparing for a new and potentially powerful task — garnering more sponsors and choosing a company that will be wrapped around his boat. Already, Rogers' sponsors include Gambler Baits, Gambler Bass Boats, Mercury Marine, Shakespeare, Maui Jim Sunglasses and Humminbird.

 "I'm really working at getting things secured," he said. "It's going to look so cool when a bunch of wrapped boats roll into town for a tournament. We will look like a real professional tour."

 Rogers also is excited about the expanded Series schedule. The 11-event Series allows an angler to have a "bad day" without destroying his chances to win the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year, which now awards $600,000, Rogers said. Additionally, a longer season allows Rogers to experiment with a number of fishing strategies throughout the year.

 Overall, the new BASS initiatives in 2006 are shaping up to offer Rogers the winning year he's strived for. "Cashing checks is really important to me, but my main goal next year is to make that 2007 Classic," Rogers said. "I have to get there."