Close doesn’t count in bass fishing, so Logan Latuso was beaming after finally having a tight race go his way. His finish was just enough to qualify for the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series.
“It took long enough,” the 29-year-old from Gonzales, La., said. “I think it was all a timing deal. I don’t think I was ready back then.”
Latuso, who has fished the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens presented by Mossy Oak Fishing since 2014, had twice been one spot away from realizing his Elite dream, including in 2016 when his father, Robbie, qualified.
“The year I did it, I bumped him out. I made it when I was 50,” said Robbie Latuso, who is happy to leave the Elites to his son after competing for five seasons. “At the end of the year, everything hurt … I guess it was finally meant to be for him.”
In 2019, Latuso noted he was beaten out by a stout class that included Wes Logan, Caleb Kuphall, Taku Ito and Bob Downey in the Central Opens.
“I’ve always said the hardest thing to do in the world is to compete in the Opens,” Latuso said. “You have from 180 to 225 guys on the water — you got guys up in there for two weeks (practicing). The years I missed it by one spot, I can tell which fish on what day cost me. You just lose one fish, it will cost you.”
“But it feels good finally getting in, I’ll tell you that. It’s starting to hit home. It’s definitely been a lifelong dream, and it feels good to finally have it happen.”
Latuso, who finished third this year in the Central Opens, joins a class of 12 new qualifiers who will are eligible to compete on the Elite Series next year. Latuso’s path was rather up and down, at least the last several days. After finishing 21st at Ross Barnett, Latuso took 37th at the Red River to stand 11th in the point standings.
Coming into the third and final Central Open on Sam Rayburn, Latuso knew he needed a top finish while others had to fall if he were to be among the top three who qualified. A disastrous Day 1 with three bass weighing 5 pounds, 13 ounces had him reeling at 107th.
“I had my bags packed. I was going home Friday,” Latuso said.
Then magic hit early Friday. Latuso started his morning with the two biggest fish in the event, a 9-13 that earned Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the event, and a 9-11.
“I only had three for 5 pounds then you start the day off with two 9-pounders!?” Latuso said. “It was definitely a life-changing day Friday. It was meant to be the way everything happened.”
His other three keeper bites, one a touch over 5, one over 4 and a 2 1/2-pounder, gave Latuso 31-4 and zoomed him into the Day 2 lead. Latuso’s bag was the third largest caught in Open competition, behind Whitney Stephens’ 32-12 on the Harris Chain in 2019 and Will Evans’ 31-15 at Toho in 2011. He was 2 ounces ahead of AJ Slegona’s 2015 Toho bag of 31-2.
“It was a magical day Friday for sure,” he said. “I only had five bites that day, but they were the right ones. That’s why going out Saturday, I didn’t know if I’d get a bite.”
Latuso struggled again on Day 3, weighing only four fish for 7-7 to total 44-8 and finish second to Keith Combs’ 46-5.
“It was a definitely a high and a low,” Latuso said. “You’re not in that position to win an Open very often. It’s so hard to get against 200 great guys out there. To be so close and come up short, and only need 9 pounds to win, I didn’t realize it’d be that close. But then again it was a high to achieve a lifelong dream I always wanted.”
The first Elite event of 2023 is on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, Feb. 16-19, and Latuso said it can’t come soon enough. While he’s simply happy to fish the top circuit of B.A.S.S., he said he’d love to cut a few checks and make a Top 10 in his first season.
“That’d be a dream come true, to prove I can compete and hang with them boys, because they truly are the best in the world,” he said.
In 2022, there were nine St. Croix Bassmaster Opens separated into three divisions. Three qualifiers from each division and three from the overall point standings earned invitations to fish the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series.
Latuso was the third and final angler from the Central Opens, which was won by Oklahoma’s Bradley Hallman with 547 points. Hallman, who’s been vying for an Elite berth the past three years, finished ninth in the overall Opens standings. He started the Central division with a 14th at Ross Barnett and added a 26th at the Red River. He was sixth before Sam Rayburn, and his 16th-place finish propelled him atop the standings.
Kyle Norsetter, of Cottage Grove, Wis., was the second Elite qualifier from the Central, and he also made a big move at Sam Rayburn. After a 48th at Ross Barnett, Norsetter had an eighth at the Red River to stand ninth in points. He started the final day 10th needing to climb at least one spot for an Elite berth, and he got it when he jumped to third with the second biggest bag of the day.
In the Northern Opens, Alex Wetherell won after finishing no worse than 17th in the three tournaments. The Middleton, Conn., angler started hot with a fourth at James River, then posted a 10th at Oneida Lake and 17th at the Upper Chesapeake to total 572 points.
Not far behind in second was Kyoya Fujita with 566 points. The 26-year-old Japanese angler had finishes of 10th, 16th and 11th.
Former Elite pro Keith Poche of Montgomery, Ala., is the third qualifier from the Northern division. He returns to the series after finishes of second at the James River, 40th at Oneida and 12th at Upper Chesapeake.
Poche, who has fished 143 B.A.S.S. tournaments including all nine Opens this year, won the overall Opens Angler of the Year title with 1,507 points. By winning the Central Open on the Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La., Poche earned his third Classic qualification.
Elite pro Bryan New topped the Southern Opens division with 574 points, leaving Bryant Smith, Cooper Gallant and Joey Cifuentes III as the three qualifiers to the Elite Series.
Smith, of Roseville, Calif., was second with 552 points after finishing 26th at the Kissimmee Chain, 23rd at Cherokee Lake and second at Lake Hartwell.
Gallant, of Bowmanville, Canada, started his year off with a 42nd at Kissimmee then won on Cherokee Lake to punch his ticket to the Classic. He closed out the division with a 14th at Hartwell to total 546 points. With 1,437 points, Gallant took third in the overall standings.
Hailing from Clinton, Ark., Cifuentes was fourth in the Southerns with 536 points. After a runner-up finish at Kissimmee, Cifuentes was 20th at Cherokee and 45th at Hartwell.
The anglers who earned Elite invitations from the overall standings are Cole Sands, David Gaston and John Soukup.
Sands, from Calhoun, Tenn., finished third with 1,436 points. The former Bassmaster College Series National Champion from Bryan College started his Opens year with a Top 10 at Kissimmee and posted a fourth at Ross Barnett.
Gaston, of Sylacauga, Ala., finished fourth overall with 1,421 points. He had four Top 10s, including a best of third at the Red River. Gaston led the Central Division before a slip at Sam Rayburn.
Soukup, of Sapulpa, Okla., was sixth overall with 1,386 points. He started the season hot with an eighth at Kissimmee before a third at the James River.
The Opens winners who earned automatic berths to the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic are:
- From the Northern Division: Kenta Kimura (James River), Casey Smith (Oneida Lake) and JT Thompkins (Chesapeake);
- From the Central: Lee Livesay (Ross Barnett), Keith Poche (Red River) and Keith Combs (Rayburn);
- From the Southern: Brandon Lester (Kissimmee), Cooper Gallant (Cherokee Lake) and Tristan McCormick (Lake Hartwell).
There will be 55 anglers slated to compete in the Classic, March 24-26 on the Tennessee River out of Knoxville, Tenn. There are 39 Classic berths allotted to the Elite Series points standings, one for the returning Classic champion (Jason Christie), one for winning the final 2022 Elite at the Mississippi River (Bryan Schmitt) and one for College Bracket champion (Louis Monetti).
There will be three berths decided at the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship at Pickwick Lake in Florence, Ala., Nov. 9-11, and the final qualifier will be decided at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Team Championship on Lake Hartwell in Anderson, S.C., Dec. 7-10.