Opens AOY heats up

RIDGELAND, Miss. — A full blown Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year race is now underway, with the third division having begun with the St. Croix Bassmaster Central Opens presented by Mossy Oak. 

Until now, only the Southern and Northern divisions were in the mix. Beginning this week, all three divisions will equate to how the overall angler of the year points race shapes up. Fishing all three divisions and their three events each are 83 anglers, all competing for two goals. 

Those are a berth in the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoorss Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk, and an invitation to the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series. The Classic berth is contingent on winning an Open, and fishing all three events within the same division. So far, the qualifiers are: Brandon Lester (Kissimmee Chain of Lakes; Southern), Coop Gallant (Cherokee Lake; Southern), Kenta Kimura (James River; Northern). 

Punching an Elite ticket will be a challenge based on the size of the field competing in all the events, plus the widely varying dynamics of the fisheries. None of them are comparatively the same, and the season stretches from the prespawn (Kissimmee, Cherokee), into the spawn (James River), and now the postspawn, where those conditions are in play this week at Ross Barnett Reservoir. The season ends during the angling doldrums of late summer and early fall. 

The outlier of the overall points race is the wide gap between the current Central Open at Ross Barnett and the next tournament, not scheduled until mid-July at Oneida Lake in New York. Oneida will be unique to the season, with largemouth and smallmouth in play. The latter bass are the richest targets, with those fish setting up on flats and offshore grassy humps on flats. 

From there, the schedule takes a break until mid-September, when it resumes with the final Northern event at the Upper Chesapeake Bay, adding another unique dynamic with a tidal fishery. The second Central tournament is in late September on the Red River, and the division wraps up the season in late October on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. The Southern division finishes in mid-October at Lake Hartwell. 

The key to all the above is how the tournament schedule and varied fisheries make it unlikely for a potential AOY winner—or Elite Series hopeful—to gain momentum at one event and carry that over to the next on the tournament. Consistency throughout the season will be key. 

The Elite invites from the overall Opens AOY race will have passed the test of consistency across the widely varied 2022 schedule. With five events remaining, the race will be wide open until the stacked series of events in September. That will be a sprint to the finish, with three events spaced one week apart. 

As of today, the overall AOY leader is Kimura with 543 overall points. John Soukup is second with 532 points, and Keith Poche is third with 492 points. 

Here is a breakdown of how the invitations will be determined for the 2023 Elite Series. 

  • The Top 3 pros in final points from each of the three 2022 Bassmaster Opens Divisions (Southern, Central and Northern) that are not already 2023 Elite Series qualified through the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series AOY average. 
  • The Top 3 pros in final overall AOY points from all nine 2022 Bassmaster Opens that are not already 2023 Elite Series qualified through the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series AOY average, or an individual Opens Series final points standings. 
  • Any Opens angler who qualifies in multiple Opens Divisions–the 2023 Elite Series berth will come from the Open Division of highest finish and they will be removed from the other Open Division. In the event of a tie for points position, the weight from full field days will be used. Vacated spots will result in additional Opens Division anglers being invited from the vacated Open Division spots. 
  • If an angler qualifies in the Top 3 pros in the overall AOY and a Division, the berth will come from the Division and an additional spot awarded to the overall AOY. 
  • If a 2022 Opens angler invited to the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series declines the invitation, that spot in the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series field goes back to the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series AOY average.