Daily Limit: First EQ class graduates to Elites

Elite Qualifiers

Congratulations and welcome to the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series.

There were 172 aspiring anglers who competed in the first year of Bassmaster’s Elite Qualifier series, which was comprised of nine St. Croix Bassmaster Opens. The top nine anglers in EQ points graduated to fish the top circuit in B.A.S.S.

While three anglers ran away from the pack, the final spots in the EQ series came down to the final day of fishing.

J.T. Thompkins, John Garrett and Trey McKinney were virtually assured of reaching the Elites before the last Open this past weekend on Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes.

With the eighth through 17th EQ spots separated by only a couple dozen points, several anglers were nervous as they leap-frogged one another through the weather-shortened tournament. It went down to the final moments, and the last several had to sweat it out before the reveal.

Let’s take a look at the nine who fulfilled their Elite dream.

JT Thompkins

J.T. Thompkins, 1,659 Points

Thompkins, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., came into the Harris Chain 19 points ahead of his closest pursuer, John Garrett. Already assured an Elite invitiation, Thompkins chased victory in hopes of earning his second Bassmaster Classic berth.

“I’ve lived by the motto, ‘You shoot for the stars and you might just land on the moon.’ It’s been working,” said Thompkins, noting he needed to finish 20th or better to hold off Garrett.

While settling for 22nd at the Harris Chain, the 21-year-old Thompkins closed out the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens Elite Qualifier title and its $10,000 bonus. With that trophy in hand, Thompkins and all the qualifiers were given a new award, a large “coin” signifying entry into the Elites.

“You look back at a year like that, probably never going to be able to duplicate a string of tournaments like that,” said Thompkins, who congratulated all his fellow Elite qualifiers, especially the two closest who pushed him the most.

Thompkins made four Top 10s and missed cashing a check in just one event, a 48th in the season opener on Alabama’s Lake Eufaula. From his 2022 Opens win on the Upper Chesapeake Bay, Thompkins fished the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic on the Tennessee River out of Knoxville.

Making the Day 2 cut and finishing 24th seemed to put him in high gear. Thompkins posted a 32nd at Toledo Bend before his first Top 10, an eighth at Buggs Island. After an 11th at Wheeler Lake, Thompkins took 14th at Oklahoma’s Lake Eufaula.

Thompkins saved his best stretch for last, finishing seventh on the St. Lawrence River to take over the points lead before a second at Watts Bar and seventh at Lake of the Ozarks.

In 29 B.A.S.S. tournaments, Thompkins has cashed 19 checks and earned $160,841. He said he will spend the fall prescouting most all the fisheries on the 2024 Elite schedule, hoping to catch up with more seasoned pros.

John Garrett

John Garrett, 1,644

Garrett, a 27-year-old from Union City, Tenn., had been so close to Elite qualification in years past and finally broke through with a dream season that included four Top 10s.

“The Lord blessed me all year, on and off the water,” Garrett said. “I can’t really wrap my head around what happened.”

Showing he was a smart man, Garrett credited to his wife, Morgan, for the great care she’s been taking of their household and newborn baby.

Garrett posted fourth-place finishes in the first two Opens, then took the EQ lead after an 18th at Buggs Island. He stayed on top after a 23rd at Wheeler Lake and a 30th at Oklahoma’s Eufaula, then he fell to second after his only missed cut, a 60th at the St. Lawrence.

The former Bassmaster College Classic qualifier then posted a fifth at Watts Bar and a third at Lake of the Ozarks before finishing 18th at the Harris Chain.

In 42 tournaments, Garrett has been in the money 24 times, with eight Top 10 finishes and $169,161 in earnings.

Trey McKinney

Trey McKinney, 1,594

McKinney’s introduction at B.A.S.S. tournaments will change from Bassmaster Junior champion to youngest Elite Series qualifier.

The 18-year-old from Carbonale, Ill., will turn 19 on Feb. 25, which is Championship Sunday for his first Elite at Toledo Bend. Bradley Roy was the previous youngest qualifier, just 19 when he made the Elites in 2010.

“The Lord has worked in so many different ways, opened so many doors,” said McKinney, who thanked all his family, friends and sponsors upon receiving his coin. “I think the bag weigh-in line in the first tournament, looking around and seeing everybody’s name, that’s when it’s really going to hit me.”

In his nine EQ events, McKinney reached four Top 10s, finishing as runner-up at Toledo Bend and Oklahoma’s Lake Eufuala and third at Watts Bar. He was in the money in seven events, earning $84,490. McKinney will have more than four seasons to try to take over as youngest Elite Series winner from Jay Przekurat, who was 23 when he won at the St. Lawrence River in 2022.

Robert Gee

Robert Gee, 1,526

Gee, a 24-year-old former college angler from Knoxville, Tenn., was steady all season, finishing in between the top three and second tier of qualifiers. Going into Harris, Gee simply needed to prevent a bomb. While he missed the cut at 47th, mission accomplished.

On the season, Gee had two Top 10s and never finished below 24th in five events as he totaled $33,090 in earnings. He had three close misses in the 40s and a worst of 79th.

“This year, coming into it, I never would have thought this would happen,” Gee said. “My goal for the year was just to be in the top 20. I’ve always been a consistent angler, and I knew some of the lakes.”

Whenever he needed a fish, Gee said he’d think of a place to go try, and he would catch a good one.

“It was meant to be, I guess,” he said. “They say when it’s your time, it’s your time, and that’s what this whole season has been.”

Kenta Kimura finished fifth in points with 1,502, so the qualification spots moved down one place since he’s already on the Elite Series.

Tyler Williams

Tyler Williams 1,463

In the fashion of jolly John Cox, Williams of Belgrade, Maine, laughed his way onto the Elites. Williams, who turns 22 in November, will be the first Elite angler from his state.

Williams gained a fan base during Bassmaster LIVE coverage of his victory at Watts Bar, which earned him a spot in the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake out of Tulsa.

“I like the camera, and I think the camera likes me,” he said on stage answering a question from tournament director Hank Weldon. “I’ve quickly become a popular angler, and that’s a good thing.”

The affable big buy admits he had a roller coaster season. Despite his first of four Top 10s at Oklahoma’s Eufaula, he stood 28th in points after a 96th at the St. Lawrence.

“I straightened it out at the end,” he said with Elite coin in hand. “If you would have told me after the St. Lawrence I would be holding this, I would have laughed at you.”

Williams climbed to 17th in points after his win, then posted an eighth at Lake of the Ozarks to move to ninth. His ninth at the Harris Chain jumped him to sixth in points.

In 2022, Williams was checkless in the first seven events, but he turned it around in major fashion this year. In 21 B.A.S.S. entries, he’s now cashed in 10 events for $92,552.

And he’s laughing now.

Wesley Gore

Wesley Gore 1,455

The 23-year-old from Clanton, Ala., went into the Harris Chain 11th in points and needing to climb. A big Day 1 with 18 pounds, 15 ounces, jumped him inside the EQ cut to sixth. He held on to take eighth and finish seventh in points.

“I had a pretty good year,” Gore said. “I’ve been up and down.”

Gore began the season well with 11th-place finishes at Eufaula in Alabama and Toledo Bend. His worst finishes were 95th at Wheeler and 83rd at Lake of the Ozarks, and his best were eighths at Watts Bar and the Harris Chain.

“I haven’t had a 100th-place finish,” Gore said. “That was the one thing I told myself, if I had a couple top 20s and not ever finish 100th, then I’d have a chance.”

Gore, who for his hobbies listed, “All I do is fish,” has been in the money in 11 of 21 Bassmaster entries, and he’s totaled $52,158 in earnings.

“I’m truly blessed. I just went fishing,” he said.

Logan Parks, 1,435

The Former College Team Angler of the Year, who was close to making the Elites in 2022, was close to falling out of an EQ berth at the Harris Chain.

Parks came into the tournament seventh in points, but a 107th-place start in the tournament dropped him to 26th. However, a critical Day 2 rally gained 47 points and a spot on the Elites.

As Weldon handed him his coin, he told the 25-year-old from Auburn, Ala., “You’re headed to the Bassmaster Elite Series.”

“Can you say that again?” Parks asked and received. “Man, I can’t believe that. It all started with a dream sitting on the floor in my grandad’s house watching Bassmaster on TV. This is so amazing, and I’m so proud to have one of these trophies.”

Parks started the year hot with an eighth on Alabama’s Eufaula. He was around the EQ cut most of the season, moving up four spots to 11th at Watts Bar. A 24th at Lake of the Ozarks got him into position at seventh in points, but the next eight anglers were within 46 points. When he did fall, Parks showed his grit by picking himself back up.

In 18 events, Parks has cashed checks eight times, earning $33,580.

Ben Milliken

Ben Milliken, 1,430

Milliken entered the EQs wondering if his monster bass catching abilities popular on YouTube would transfer to tournament success.

The 34-year-old from New Caney, Texas, found it easy pickings after a fifth at Alabama’s Eufaula then a victory at Toledo Bend. His winning 77-14 total made the Opens’ Top 5 weights list at third, as well as giving him a spot at the Classic.

Then things got harder. Milliken realized it wasn’t so easy. He made only one cut over the next six events but that put him 17th in the points. He needed a top finish at the Harris Chain and got it with 20-13, good for second. He ended up third.

“I knew I had to have a Top 10, potentially win this tournament, to get in, and we came all the way back from 17th,” he said with Elite coin. “When I started the season, I didn’t think there was any way to do either” make Elites and Classic.

Milliken cashed in four of his nine Opens, earning $83,844. He’ll get to defend at Toledo Bend, the first 2024 Elite stop.

Kyle Patrick

Kyle Patrick, 1,426

Perhaps sweating his Elite qualification the most, Patrick took the ninth and final spot after starting the last event in sixth.

The 26-year-old from Cooperstown, N.Y., fell three spots by starting 71st at the Harris Chain, opening the door for another to rally past him. He ended up 79th in the event, but that was 23 points better than former Elite Bobby Lane Jr., the first man out.

“None of this sets in on stage,” Patrick said. “It just doesn’t really feel real. This is so special. It’s unbelievable.”

Patrick has long dreamed of Bassmaster glory. He qualified for the Classic by winning at the Lake of the Ozarks just weeks ago, then filled a longtime quest by making the Elites.

Just 12 when he purchased a lifetime B.A.S.S. membership, Patrick looked back to when he began his tournament career fishing out of a blue canoe.

“And to think that I would be standing here to make the Elite series, I would have never thought,” he said.

In 26 Bassmaster entries, Patrick has been in the money 13 times, earning $86,150.

Along with Milliken, Patrick and Williams, other Opens anglers who qualified for the Classic are Justin Barnes, winner at Alabama’s Eufaula; Adam Rasmussen, who won at Wheeler; Joey Nania, winner at Oklahoma’s Eufaula; Powell Kemp, who won at Buggs Island; and Matt Messer, who took the Harris Chain title.

Jody White, who won at the St. Lawrence River with the fifth-highest Opens total of 71-15, didn’t fish all three tournaments in the division. That berth went to Cole Sands, who finished 42nd in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.