After the shortest break ever, the Bassmaster Elite Series kicks off its 2021 schedule in February with an increased field of 101 anglers and Bassmaster LIVE airing on FOX Sports for every event.
1 / 28
Just three months after the final 2020 tournament, the 16th Elite season gets underway with the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River, Feb. 11-14, out of the familiar site of Palatka, Fla. This will be the 23rd pro level event held there by B.A.S.S., with the first in 1973.
2 / 28
St. Johns is hosting an Elite for the fourth time in six years, with Paul Mueller trying to repeat after winning here in 2020. Mueller, who admitted Florida isn't exactly in his style of fishing, offered a welcome surprise to players who picked him in Fantasy Fishing, the signup for which is already under way.
3 / 28
Mueller bucked the trend in last year’s weather-shortened event, heading north of takeoff and catching 47 pounds, 6 ounces over three days for his second Elite title. This year, the Elite field grew by 13 with a dozen earning berths through the Basspro.com Opens and one from the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. After two days, the field is cut to the top 50 then 10 advance to Championship Sunday, vying for $100,000, a coveted blue trophy and Angler of the Year points.
4 / 28
In 2016, legendary angler Rick Clunn broke a 14-year drought with his 15th Bassmaster title, becoming the oldest Elite winner, and he topped it in winning again on the St. Johns in 2019. Clunn, tied for the record with four Classic titles, is the active wins leader in B.A.S.S. with 16.
5 / 28
While dependent on weather and spawn phase, lunker largemouth are commonly landed on the St. Johns, like Kyle Welcher’s 10-1 big bass of 2020. In the 1973 event, Bob Tyndall and Bill Bailey caught 12-13 and 12-3 bass, respectively, both of which are among the top 10 largest caught in Bassmaster competition.
6 / 28
The series then moves to Knoxville, Tenn., for competition on the Tennessee River, site of the 2019 Bassmaster Classic, which set attendance records.
7 / 28
The 2017 Cherokee Lake Elite, with the final two weigh-ins held in Knoxville, set the stage for Knoxville to host the Classic. “It was the first time B.A.S.S. had been here since 1981,” said Chad Culver, senior director of the Visit Knoxville Sports Commission. “Needless to say, we could not be more excited to welcome B.A.S.S. back to the waters of Knoxville and East Tennessee.”
8 / 28
Ott DeFoe won the 2019 Classic on his home waters, where both largemouth and smallmouth can be targeted. DeFoe totaled 49-3, which included a 20-pound bag on Day 1.
9 / 28
The lingering pandemic has already affected 2021, as the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk has been moved from March to June 11-13 with hopes of normal attendance. In its place, the Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake will be held out of Florence, Ala., March 18-21.
10 / 28
Pickwick Lake, which has been the venue for six major Bassmaster events, is a 43,100-acre Tennessee River impoundment. In 2020, Pickwick hosted the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship in November.
11 / 28
Pickwick, west of Wilson Lake on the Tennessee River, has a mixture of largemouth and smallmouth. The most recent Elite winner there was Davy Hite in 2011, and the year before Kevin Short took home the blue trophy.
12 / 28
The Elites return to the Sabine River out of Orange, Texas, for stop No. 4. This will be the fourth Elite event there, and the most recent winner was Greg Hackney in 2018.
13 / 28
The first Elite tournament on the Sabine was in 2013, and it drew 33,000 spectators, the second-largest crowd the circuit has experienced.
14 / 28
Finding fish in practice is critical as the narrow canals make moving difficult, and without an abundance of large bass, a limit weighing in the teens is a great thing. The Sabine is among the most nerve-wracking events for pros, where a wrong turn can spell a subpar finish.
15 / 28
At midseason, there’s a fork in the road, as in Lake Fork. Texas’ famed fishery, where a large percentage of the state’s ShareLunker largemouth have been caught, is stop No. 5 and offers another possible 100-pound week for the Elites.
16 / 28
In 2019, Brandon Cobb blew away the field with 114 pounds over four days, and Garrett Paquette joined him in earning a Century Belt. In the final event of 2020, Patrick Walters lapped the field as he figured out how to draw the big fish from the flooded timber in what was a stingy November event for most.
17 / 28
Walters, who had won a Basspro.com Open the month before, sweated the Century Belt but came through late on the final day, totaling 104-12. The closest competitor was 29-10 back, almost doubling the previous record for largest margin of victory in an Elite.
18 / 28
After the Texas swing, the series returns to Alabama for Neely Henry Lake out of Gadsden. The 11,200-acre Coosa River fishery has hosted three pro level B.A.S.S. events, starting with Davy Hite’s win in the 1996 Alabama Top 100.
19 / 28
The most recent tournament was a Basspro.com Central Open last October, where Cody Bird’s 34-1 over three days took the crown. Neely Henry, just northeast of Birmingham, is loaded with spotted bass.
20 / 28
Stop No. 7 is Lake Guntersville, one of the most familiar fisheries for tournament anglers, and again the Elites embark from Scottsboro. It will be the 26th time B.A.S.S. has held a pro event on Big G, ranking it second behind only Sam Rayburn.
21 / 28
Last year, Guntersville was a late addition to the Elite schedule after COVID-19 canceled an event at Cayuga Lake. Stopping on a place that looked right up river, Texan Frank Talley won that event in early October.
22 / 28
Seven months earlier, Hank Cherry scored redemption with his convincing win in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk, the 50th world championship. Despite hosting hundreds of tournaments, Guntersville continues to produce, so well that it ranks No. 2 on Bassmaster Magazine’s list of Best Bass Lakes of the Decade.
23 / 28
The Elite Series takes a break for the 51st Classic to be held on Lake Ray Roberts, with first-time host city Fort Worth. It will be third Classic held in Texas, and the first major event on the 29,350-acre impoundment of the Trinity River system. The fishery is known for big bass, not numbers.
24 / 28
The final swing takes the Elites north for back-to-back July events, starting with Lake Champlain out of Burlington, Vt. Champlain has held 13 events, including four of the past five years.
25 / 28
In 2020, Brandon Palaniuk had a big final day to win the Elite with just over 80 pounds. Palaniuk went on to win a second Elite title on the season at Santee Cooper, giving him five blue trophies.
26 / 28
The season culminates on the St. Lawrence River out of Waddington, N.Y. It will be the 21st time B.A.S.S. has visited the Upstate New York smallmouth paradise, which topped the 2019 Bassmaster Magazine’s Top 100 Best Bass Lakes list.
27 / 28
Chris Johnston became the first Canadian to win an Elite last year when he came from behind on the final day, just 2-8 from becoming the first to reach 100 pounds with smallmouth. The season-ending tournament event, with $100,000 to the winner like all the Elites, will decide the Bassmaster Angler of the Year and Rookie of the Year races as well as berths to the 2022 Bassmaster Classic.