There were what-ifs galore going into the final Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open at Lay Lake. Now all the questions have been answered. And it’s quite a list.
First all, the next to last spot in the 2021 Bassmaster Classic field was earned by Lay Lake winner Keith Carson of Debary, Fla. (The final Classic berth will be decided in the Team Championship Dec. 9-12.) Bassmaster Elite Series angler Keith Combs was hoping a non-Classic qualifier would take the title, thus shifting that Classic spot to the Elite Series Angler of the Year list, where Combs stood one spot outside the cut line. Carson, who fished all four Eastern Opens, went into the day with a 3-pound, 7-ounce lead over second place and expanded the winning margin to 4-6 at Lay Lake.
Secondly, Bryan New, 30, of Belmont, N.C., earned the Falcon Rods Overall Opens Angler of the Year title and an invitation to the 2021 Elite Series. New was in third place in the Opens overall standings going into Lay Lake, 29 points behind leader Jason Christie. He won the title by one point over Justin Atkins. New finished 22nd and Atkins was 16th at Lay Lake.
“A lot of hard work and childhood dreams - it all came together this week,” New said. “And not just this week, but all year. There definitely wasn’t anything easy about it.
“The Bassmaster Elite Series is the biggest tournament trail on the face of the planet, always has been, always will be, and I’m going to be part of it.”
There were 12 Elite Series invitations from the Opens that were decided Saturday - four each from the overall standings, Eastern and Central divisions. Double qualifiers, etc., made this difficult to explain at times, but here is how it all shook out.
Earning the four Overall Opens invitations were: 1. Bryan New, 2. Justin Atkins, 3. Matt Robertson and 4. Marc Frazier, who will join his brother, Micah, on the Elite Series next year.
Earning the four Central Opens invitations were: 1. Jason Christie, 2. Greg Hackney, 3. Kenta Kimura and 4. Darold Gleason. Gleason, by the way, won a tiebreaker with Paul Browning based on overall weights on Days 1 and 2 in the four tournaments.
Earning the four Eastern Opens invitations were: 1. Joshua Stracner, 2. Scott Martin, 3. Justin Hamner and 4. KJ Queen, the first Bethel University graduate to make the Elite Series from that dominant college bass fishing team.
It’s a fascinating mix of accomplished pros and young up-and-comers that undoubtedly will produce many compelling stories during the 2021 Elite Series season.