TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It’s a wrap. The 2015 season is in the books for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens presented by Allstate.
What began in January ended after nine events with anglers advancing to the 2016 Bassmaster Elite Series and the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.
These headlines unfolded during the finale on Lake Seminole.
Class of Elites
Brandon McMillan’s overall performance in the 2015 Southern Opens ranks among the best of anyone in series history.
What McMillan achieved rivals a year once had by Randall Tharp, who won two events in the same season.
McMillan won the point title while qualifying for the Top 12, as he did in all three events. He led on Day 2 at Southern #1 held on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. Winning Southern #3 capped his impressive season.
“Randall is a close friend and we fish together in a lot of team events,” he said. “He’s one of the best and I was hoping we’d have the chance to compete for the title.”
“Winning this tournament and the point title is just amazing,” he continued. “Qualifying for the Elite Series and the Classic at the same time is hard to believe.”
Drew Benton, Clent Davis, Brock Mosley and Trevor Fitzgerald join McMillan in the group, should they accept the invitations.
Gene Bishop, Chris Dillow, Whitney Stephens and James Watson are the Classic rookies advancing from the Opens.
Bishop won Central Open #1 on Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi. Dillow’s win at Northern Open #1 on the James River in Virginia secured his spot. Stephens claimed victory last month on Lake Erie in Ohio at Northern Open #3. Watson earned his invitation at Central #3 on Table Rock Lake in Missouri.
Judy and Timmy Reneau marked a first in their marriage by each qualifying for the Top 12 of an Opens series event.
“We wanted to come here because fishing hydrilla is a strength for both of us,” said Timmy.
Proof is the couple’s win last fall at a team tournament on Toledo Bend, where they caught a combined catch of 57 pounds in the two-day event. Timmy commented their win came by fishing matted hydrilla over deep water. Fishing from separate boats the two duplicated the weed pattern on Lake Seminole to make the Top 12.
At Lake Seminole Timmy finished fifth in the pro division while Judy earned the seventh spot for the co-angler side.
Timmy is president of Power Tackle Rods in Del Rio, Texas. The company sponsors Bassmaster Elite Series pro Keith Combs.
Anglers targeting the Flint River’s signature game fish species stood on from the crowd this week. Shoal bass were the target. Like their name implies it takes tricky maneuvering to find the fish inhabiting shallow, rocky shoals.
Getting to shoal bass is too risky in a heavy fiberglass bass boat. That’s why a number of anglers opted for lightweight aluminum rigs with tunnel hulls and prop-powered outboards.
Leading the lightweight brigade in the standings was Scott Luster and Jim Murray. Both anglers made the Top 12 cut in their aluminum rigs.
Murray brought an 18-foot Team Weldbilt custom made about 10 years ago. Luster switched from his fiberglass Phoenix rig to a G3 1756 that spans 17 feet 6 inches.
Some came with aluminum just for fun. Ott DeFoe advanced to the 2016 Classic from the Elite Series.
Punching a heavyweight soft plastic rig into matted hydrilla misses DeFoe’s list of angling strengths.
“I came here as a bonus to try and win it and enjoy the shoal bass fishing,” he admitted. “It’s how I fish back home for smallmouth.”
How he does that is from a Tracker Grizzly 1860 SC. DeFoe modified the production with a beefed up tunnel hull that allows the boat to skim at top speed over a couple inches of water.
Home is east Tennessee, where the rig gets frequent use on the swift, cool rivers known for quality smallmouth fishing.
Elites in the Opens
The Southern Open season finale attracted a surprising number of Bassmaster Elite Series anglers. Not surprisingly so though, considering none of those pros qualified through the Elite Series for the 2016 Classic.
The final Open event of the three regional tours is the last chance for those pros to qualify. The Southern Open also was the final event for the series, explaining the reason for the unusually high number of Elite Series pros.
Kelley Jaye and Randall Tharp qualified for the Top 12, although neither angler won the tournament or final chance at earning the Classic berth.
On a note of irony many pundits, fans and even outdoor writers tab the Opens series as the “minor leagues.” The ambiguous title didn’t apply this week, nor does it throughout the season. Elite Series anglers fill out the pro rosters at each event and fish by choice to earn more money, a Classic berth, or both.