Plenty on the line at the Nation Championship

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Chris Brown

FLORENCE, Ala. -- The best B.A.S.S Nation anglers from around the nation have gathered in the northwest corner of Alabama this week to compete for $176,800 in cash and prizes.

That's quite an impressive array of riches, but make no mistake -- these guys are looking for something more elusive than fortune. Their main goal is to secure one of three coveted positions up for grabs this week in the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic when it's held on Lake Ray Roberts in Texas on March 19-21.

But before even thinking about Ray Roberts, the 48 anglers and 46 co-anglers entered in the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship must conquer Pickwick Lake, where Day 1 of the title event began Wednesday morning. They're expected to have a number of options at their disposal this week, considering this impoundment of the Tennessee River produces both largemouth and smallmouth bites, with both expected to be caught in a variety of ways this week. 

The weather on Pickwick remains warm for mid-November, even by Southern standards, with temperatures climbing to 70 degrees and humidity near 100 percent. That's created soupy fog throughout the area yesterday and today, and intermittent showers are expected this week, too.

Whatever the weather, the B.A.S.S. Nation champions remain focused on representing their states and themselves in this week's tournament. In all, champions from 46 states are competing at Pickwick, with only North Dakota, Connecticut, Hawaii and Alaska not represented this year. Cody Hollen, the Oregon angler who won the 2019 B.A.S.S. Nation title on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina, is here to defend his title, and Florida's Ken Carter, who is the Paralyzed Veterans of American Angler of the Year, brings the angler total to 48.

The top co-anglers from the same 46 states are fishing in their own division on Pickwick. The leading co-angler after Thursday's competition will be placed in a boat of his own on Friday and will compete against the anglers for his own shot at Classic glory. The co-angler champion also will win $10,000 in paid entries to the Bassmaster Open tournaments in 2021, with the leading 12 co-anglers splitting $31,500 in cash. 

The angler division pays even more, with $64,000 in cash split among the Top 12 competitors The top angler after Friday's third and final day of competition will receive $20,000 cash and an invitation to join the 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series, with $16,000 in paid entry fees to those events. Should the winner not opt to compete in next year's Elite Series, he will receive paid entry to all 2021 Bassmaster Opens instead. Regardless of which series he fishes, he will ride in style aboard a wrapped Nation's Best boat provided by B.A.S.S..

Second place on the angler side nets $15,000 cash and entries into all Open events, while third place is good for $10,000 and invites to all Opens.

The field will be cut following Thursday's weigh-in. In addition to the Top 10 boaters and leading co-angler surviving to fish on Friday, the top two boaters from each of the five B.A.S.S. Nation regions (Southeast, Northeast, Northern, Western and Central) also will advance if they don't already have a Top-10 total after two days. Any co-anglers whose two-day total exceeds the 10th place total on the boater side also will compete on Day 3 of the Nation Championship.

The myriad storylines will begin to take shape when the Day 1 weigh-in of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship begins at 2 p.m. at McFarland Park on the Tennessee River in the heart of Florence.  

The tournament is being hosted by Visit Florence.