Serving up the EQs

I love ping-pong. Actually, I became a bit addicted to the sport in college, where I skipped more than one class to take on the best players Midwestern State University’s student center had to offer. Once I was crowned champion of the intramural table tennis competition, it appeared that the Olympics weren’t really that far out of my grasp. So, I signed up for a regional International Table Tennis Federation event. I showed up fairly confident. And when my first match was against an 80-year-old German lady, I became a little worried that I wouldn’t have enough room in my car to take home the trophy. Then, she destroyed me. 

I may have scored a couple of points, but all in all, it was a complete embarrassment. The student center hadn’t prepared me for a grandmother with wicked backspin every time she hit a forehand. I swallowed a giant scoop of perspective that still guides many of my decisions today.

This year, B.A.S.S. has made some significant changes to the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens that will help up-and-coming anglers avoid the mistakes I made with my very short-lived ping-pong career. Beginning with the 2023 season, Opens anglers can only earn Elite Series invitations by competing in all nine Opens events. This nine-event series will be called the Elite Qualifiers (EQs). Until now, anglers could qualify for the Elites by fishing just three regional events. Although several anglers have gone on to build successful careers via the old format, many more Elite rookies went into debt chasing the Elite dream and suffered both personally and financially before failing to requalify. Although these anglers were very talented, they hadn’t competed on a wide variety of waters against the best anglers on the planet. They hadn’t had to experience a rigid travel and practice schedule. And they didn’t have a stable sponsor base to support a year on the road. The new EQ format will change all this.

EQ anglers will start their 2023 journey on Alabama’s Lake Eufaula in early March. Then they will hit Louisiana’s Toledo Bend, followed by Buggs Island Reservoir in Virginia. They will travel back to Alabama for a very different fishery in Wheeler Lake, then hop over to Oklahoma’s Lake Eufaula. The final four events include New York’s St. Lawrence River, Tennessee’s Watts Bar Reservoir, Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks and Florida’s Harris Chain. To thrive with this schedule, an angler must be versatile.

Versatility will have to be paired with extreme talent, though, as the EQ pool has 175 hammers. Former Elite Series studs Ish Monroe and Bobby Lane are fishing the EQs. Former FLW standouts Andrew Upshaw, Matt Pangrac and Brandon McMillan are fishing the EQs. And bright young stars Joey Nania, Trevor McKinney, Trey McKinney and Logan Parks are fishing the EQs.

Nine of these 175 anglers will be invited to the Elites next year, and potential sponsors will know these qualifiers are prepared to fish at the next level. More importantly, the qualifiers will know that they are prepared to compete on bass fishing’s biggest stage.

The Opens will still feature three divisions. For those anglers not pursuing a career, there remains one giant prize when fishing just one division: an Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic berth. Yep, anyone can qualify for the Classic through the Opens. If you win, you are in, as long as you fish all three events in a division.

Be sure to watch the EQ race unfold at and on the FOX Sports channels. There will be more coverage than ever before. I have little doubt every one of the anglers competing in the 2023 EQs has the talent to move on to the next level … they just need to be prepared for a little backspin.