BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Invitations were sent to 112 anglers Friday morning confirming their qualification for the 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series. The qualifiers include a mixture of top fishermen from the 2014 Series, rookies, qualifiers from the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens and others who have finished consistently high in their Elite careers.
B.A.S.S. outlined the qualification criteria for the Elite Series in a Participation Agreement signed by each of the Elite anglers last year. It guaranteed only 87 spots — 70 from the 2014 Angler of the Year standings, five each from the three Opens divisions, one B.A.S.S. Nation divisional champion and the 2015 Bassmaster Classic winner, if he has not already qualified through another route. Those last two qualifiers will be determined at championships to be held later.
B.A.S.S. officials reserved the right to determine any remaining qualifiers needed to fill the Elite field.
“We set the target field size at 108, which is where we started last year,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin. “A survey of the entire Elite Field from last year indicated that the ideal field size is between 100 and 110, so this falls in that range.”
In addition to those 108, B.A.S.S. has extended invitations to five pros who received “hardship exemptions” last year, including 2013 Classic winner Cliff Pace, who was badly injured in a hunting accident. If any of the five decline the opportunity, their slots will not be filled, Akin added. Likewise, if the 2015 Classic champion is already qualified for the Elites, that position will be eliminated.
“With demand for positions in the Elite Series exceeding capacity — and after consulting with Elite Series Advisory Board members as well as others — we have implemented a system of ‘re-qualifying’ for the Elites that we believe is fair, that rewards performance and that gives newcomers to the Series a grace period to become acclimated to this level of competition,” Akin explained in his letter to Elite qualifiers Friday.
To fill the field, B.A.S.S. also invited five rookies who fell below 71st in Angler of the Year points standings at the end of the season. “We decided to give newcomers a two-year ‘grace period’ to become acclimated to this level of competition,” Akin explained.
In addition, remaining Elites not making the cut were ranked according to their average AOY standings during their careers in the Elites, after dropping their lowest finish. That pool produced 16 qualifiers.
If all those invited decide to compete in 2015, however, 14 veterans from the Elite Series will not be able to fish next year. B.A.S.S. Tournament Director Trip Weldon explained the dilemma in a separate letter to those below the cut, which he followed up with phone calls.
“Some on this list most likely will make it in, while others probably will not requalify for the Elite Series this coming season,” Weldon wrote. “It is extremely difficult for us to deny participation to so many outstanding fishermen who have been supportive of B.A.S.S. and the sport of professional bass fishing.”
He said he hoped the pros will seek to return to the Elites by qualifying through the 2015 Bassmaster Opens tournaments.
He added that the anglers overwhelmingly agree the Elite field should be restricted in size, even though that might mean some are eliminated from the competition.
The first round of invitees have until Nov. 11 to sign up. Others have an additional week to decide. The process of filling slots vacated by those who might decline the invitations may mean it will be December before some pros learn whether they’re in or out, Weldon explained.
How To Qualify For The Elite Series
71 2014 Angler of the Year Points Rank
15 Top 5 In Points Three Opens Divisions
5 2014 Rookies Not Otherwise Qualified
1 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship Divisional Leader
[Note: Any openings created by declines in the above group will be filled by working down the 2014 AOY Points list, starting at No. 72.]
16 Highest Average Career AOY Rankings, With Lowest Finish Dropped
[If any of the above 16 anglers declines to participate, they will be replaced by working down the Average AOY list.]
5 Hardship Exemptions
1 2015 Classic Champion Not Already Qualified
114 Potential Total Field Size
[Any declines among Hardship Exempt anglers will not be filled. Nor will the Classic slot be filled if the winner is already qualified.]