Who’s hot, who’s not, for the Classic?

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — B.A.S.S. Fantasy Fishing Challenge is back for 2012 with several new twists and more than $109,000 in prizes — not to mention the sport’s ultimate bragging rights for the sharpest armchair anglers of 2012.

Fishing fans can get into the Bassmaster.com online game with a team selected for the Feb. 24-26 Bassmaster Classic, now just 10 days away. Classic teams will be accepted up until the 49 Classic qualifiers take off out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La., at 8 a.m. ET on Feb. 24 for three days of Red River competition.

But Fantasy Fishing won’t end with the Classic. After Fantasy winners are declared in the Classic round, the game will be reset for the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series season. Players will build new teams from five “buckets” of Elite pros for the eight-event regular Elite season that kicks off March 15.

Any fan age 18 or older can participate, and play is free and easy. In just a few clicks at BassmasterFantasy.com, a fishing fan can register, review the choices, and decide on the one best bet from each of five buckets.

The goal is to pick well and win points. The points system is based on a sliding scale. When a pro wins a tournament, for example, the victory is worth 300 points to those who picked him in Fantasy Fishing. By season’s end, the fan with the most Elite-event points wins the Fantasy Fishing grand prize.

That’s a package valued at $43,798. It includes a Triton 18SE boat with a Mercury 150 OptiMax motor, a $5,000 gift card from a major retailer and a custom winner hat.

Prizes also will be awarded to top players after each event, beginning with the Classic round. The Fantasy Fishing player with the most points after an event will win a $5,000 gift card from a major retailer, plus a custom tournament shirt and hat valued at $250. Players in second through 10th place will win a gear pack, custom hat and shirt valued at $200. Finishers in 11th through 25th place will win a hat and shirt valued at $20.

Fans are invited to start playing now, but newcomers can jump in at midseason, or even for just one tournament, in hopes of winning one of the event-specific prize packages. The biggest difference returning players will see this year is a reset of the buckets after every other Elite event. Although players keep the points they earned in previous 2012 Elite events, they will have to build a new Fantasy roster that they’ll keep over the next two tournaments.

Each remix of the buckets will take into account who’s hot, said Jim Sexton, chief digital officer for B.A.S.S.

“Last year, for instance, Ott DeFoe as a rookie started out in the “E” bucket. Turns out DeFoe had a great year, but buckets were set so he never moved up,” Sexton said.

“Also by resetting buckets, we can account for anglers who have a strong history at a tournament stop, or who have a home-water advantage,” he added. “That means Fantasy players get to think more about their team, then return to Bassmaster.com and have fun reselecting anglers. We think it will be a better game because of that.”

Bonus points are another addition for 2012. Players can earn 40 bonus points if one of their anglers catches the biggest bass of a tournament, and another 40 bonus points if one of their anglers brings in the heaviest bag of bass.

Another new aspect of the game for 2012: Players can bring their team into as many groups as they wish. Fantasy gamers can start their own groups or join groups others create, or both. Groups (or “leagues”) can be left open to other players, or kept private and limited to invited players.

To help players make educated decisions as they construct a team, the Fantasy Fishing pages at Bassmaster.com will feature news and analysis throughout the season. Interviews with anglers and articles about successful B.A.S.S. Fantasy Fishing Challenge players are planned.

As in other years, Fantasy players can check in at Bassmaster.com during a tournament to see how well their team is working for them. A Fantasy Fishing leaderboard will show each player where he or she stands in relation to other players.

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