When the Bassmaster Elite Series was launched in 2006, the plan was to make it exclusive — only 100 or so of the top professionals in bass fishing would be allowed to compete. And it would be easier to stay in than get in.
The world’s premier bass fishing tour has lived up to its expectations in that regard, although it has become harder of late to stay in.
That’s part of the reason B.A.S.S. announced a new set of qualifications for future Elite Series fields this week, “B.A.S.S. Legend” status.
According to guidelines sent to Elite Series anglers Thursday, up to two Legend Qualifiers will be added to the field of 108 for 2017.
“B.A.S.S. Legend invitations will be extended based on one point for each Bassmaster Classic win and one point for each Bassmaster Angler of the Year title,” the notice said.
Classic and AOY winners currently fishing the Elites who do not requalify this year will have first priority, and invitations will be based on the number of Legend points anglers have accumulated. For example, in the unlikely event both fail to requalify, Kevin VanDam (with seven AOY titles and four Classic wins) would rank above Rick Clunn (one AOY and four Classics).
If the two slots are not filled from the Elites, invitations will be extended to legends currently competing in the Bassmaster Opens. Any remaining openings after that will be offered to former Classic champions and AOY title holders who aren’t currently competing in B.A.S.S events.
“After demand for the Elite Series exceeded the number of openings last year, it became apparent that we eventually might have to exclude some of the stars of the sport,” said Bruce Akin, B.A.S.S. CEO. “Bass fishing doesn’t yet have a ‘seniors tour,’ so we decided it would be good for the sport to provide a way for legends to remain active in the Elite Series.”
The change also has been proposed by members of the Elite Advisory Board in recent years.
Thursday’s announcement also outlined other requalification processes that have been in place for the past few years. Again in 2017, the Top 70 Elite anglers in the 2016 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points standings will be invited back. Invitations will also be extended to the Top 5 pros in each of three divisions in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens who are not already qualified for the Elites. One B.A.S.S. Nation Classic qualifier also will be invited, and newcomers to the Elites enjoy a grace period that permits them a second year on the circuit.
Remaining berths to reach the full-field target of 108 will be offered in order of average career AOY finishes after the lowest finish is dropped. Any anglers receiving a “hardship exemption” from the previous year are invited back as well, and they, like the two Legends, are added to the field of 108.