Winning is always the top priority of any angler competing in a pro-level B.A.S.S. event. Stetson Blaylock has a more important goal this week on Douglas Lake than collecting the first prize check and winner’s trophy.
Blaylock, 28, of Benton, Ark., leads the point standings for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Opens series. Doing so puts him first on the list for an invitation to the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series.
“Winning the points race is the number one goal this week,” he said.
So far so good for Blaylock, who is currently 24th overall in the standings after Day 1 of the final Southern Open. His catch weighed 14 pounds, 13 ounces.
Blaylock understands how competitive the Opens can be. He’s a strong contender in the FLW series and has nearly $70,000 in earnings from the Opens.
“You don’t get many opportunities like this one to lead the points in the Opens,” he said. “It’s hard enough just to make the cut.”
Indeed. The Top 5 pros in the point standings get invited to the Elite Series. Leading is the best place to be for multiple reasons.
Who goes gets determined by deleting any current Elite Series members inside the cut. Randall Tharp is at the cut line so he comes off the list. Then you have uncommitted anglers on the fence. And finally, others who want to accept the invitation but have the long road ahead of them for securing sponsors.
At best for anyone below the lead it’s a complicated waiting game. In that group is Dustin Connell, the young and talented pro from Alabama. Connell, from Prattville, won the 2015 Southern Open held on the Alabama River, where he dominates tournaments on the fishery and throughout the state. Connell currently is fifth place without Tharp in the mix.
Connell got a lift in points from Douglas Lake with his Day 1 catch. That weighed 19-7 and puts him in third place in the tournament.
“It’s my lifelong goal is qualifying for the Elite Series,” said Connell, 25, who formerly fished for the University of Alabama bass fishing team.
Behind Blaylock in the current point standings is Mark Rose, another talented and highly respected FLW series pro. He’s uncommitted pending discussions with sponsors. Brad Knight, the 2015 Forrest Wood Cup Champion, is uncommitted.
“I haven’t made my mind up yet,” said Blaylock. “It’s an awesome opportunity and one I certainly want to consider after talking to sponsors.”
Blaylock will have plenty of time. Normally, the Opens season winds down much later in the year. There’s not much time for signing sponsorships between the season end and commitment deadline for the Elite Series.
“The timing is much better for me and I’m sure for the other guys on the list,” he said. “Right in the middle of tournament season is the busiest time of the year to try and secure sponsors, so soon, for the next year.”
Blaylock is ahead of that process. His title sponsor is Livingston Lures and he represents more top brands. Those include Legend Boats, Mercury Marine, TH Marine, Garmin, Crossed Industries, Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, Seaguar, Boss Jigs, Bass Mafia and 13 Fishing.
Meanwhile, Blaylock has plenty of work to do this week on Douglas. The bass population is in post-spawn mode. Tracking them down is a challenge with the labyrinth of shallow creeks connecting to the deep main lake.
“This tournament is going to be a killer,” he admitted. “The bass are all over the place and have been under a lot of pressure.”
Douglas has hosted a full slate of tournaments throughout spring. It came much sooner than later and the water level is lower than normal due to bridge construction projects.
Two weeks ago was the 180-boat Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Eastern Regional presented by Magellan Sports. A Bass Fishing League event came last week.
“Normally I’m a decent practice guy but this one scares me,” he added. “When I don’t have a good practice means I come out strong during the tournament.”
He added, “My goal isn’t to win but just survive the points lead.”
Blalock has two more days to close the deal. If successful he’ll have an important win checked off his list for 2016.