It’s finally here — the long-awaited 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. The 51st Classic will take place Friday through Sunday on Lake Ray Roberts north of host city Fort Worth, Texas.
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This is the third Classic in Texas, and Ray Roberts is a first-time venue for B.A.S.S. The event was originally scheduled for March but because of pandemic considerations it was flip-flopped with the Pickwick Elite event. It will be the latest Classic since the move to fish championships in spring of 2006.
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The 54 competitors, who qualified through several avenues, will seek their best five fish measuring 14 inches or longer over the first two days of competition Friday and Saturday. The top 25 move on to Championship Sunday with $300,000 going to the winner out of the $1 million payout.
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Lake Ray Roberts, named after a congressmen who supported its creation, is about an hour north of Fort Worth, where the Classic Expo and weigh-ins will take place. As always, B.A.S.S. has processes in place to maximize fish care.
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A reservoir of the Trinity River, Lake Ray Roberts was impounded in 1987, flooding ponds that had been stocked with Florida-strain largemouth. The lake is 23 miles long with about 29,000 surface acres and 160 miles of shoreline. The average depth is 24 feet with a maximum depth of 106 feet.
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Daily launches will take place at the Lake Ray Roberts State Park Isle Du Bois Unit, 100 PW 4137 in Pilot Point.
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Fans are welcome free of charge to watch the activities for the 6:15 a.m. CT blastoffs. Reigning Bassmaster Angler of the Year Clark Wendlandt will lead the procession with 2020 Classic champ Hank Cherry to follow. The remainder of the field drew for starting positions. The Day 2 launch order is reversed.
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Recently opened Dickies Arena will be site of the weigh-ins. The state-of-the-art facility should seat around 10,000 and provide a spectacular show for the championship weigh-ins, a celebration of the sport. Check the attend page for information on the facilities and parking.
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The arena doors open at 3 p.m. CT for B.A.S.S. Life and Nation members and the general public may enter at 3:15. The weigh-ins are set to begin at approximately 4:00 p.m. CT each day.
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Adjacent to the arena is the Will Rogers Memorial Center, site of the 2021 Bassmaster Classic Expo. The expo brings together all the major industry companies, with deep discounts on most all merchandise. Fans can browse the acres of aisles and meet fishing legends and anglers not competing.
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Life and Nation members can enter the expo at 11 a.m. CT Friday, with general public hours noon-7 p.m. On Saturday, hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Sunday the expo runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Also part of the expo is the Go Out(side) Experience, which offers family fun like inflatable archery, cornhole, jumping dogs, knot tying and even a catfish pond.
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Fans can catch the fishing action and the weigh-ins with streaming coverage on Bassmaster.com. The Bassmaster LIVE crew will present more than seven hours of on-the-water coverage each day. For the first time, the Classic also features four hours on the FOX broadcast network Saturday from 7-11 a.m. CT, and there will be four hours of Championship Sunday coverage on FS1 from 7-11 a.m.
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The LIVE team will broadcast from the expo floor in the B.A.S.S. booth, where fans can watch on a big screen, get their photo taken with the Classic trophy and meet first Bassmaster Magazine editor Bob Cobb, who will be signing his book.
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After an off-limits period, reigning champion Hank Cherry and the other 53 qualifiers practiced Friday-Sunday on Ray Roberts then started Classic week activities. They have a final day of practice Wednesday that serves as a dress rehearsal.
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On Wednesday night, the anglers get together for the Night of Champions, a banquet celebrating the year’s champions. Classic night is highlighted by an address from the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year. Scott Canterbury delivered a heartfelt speech in Birmingham last year, and the torch will be held this time by 2020 AOY Clark Wendlandt.
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On Thursday, the anglers have more walkthroughs before greeting reporters for Media Day. There have around 300 credentialed media from around the globe covering Classics. That night, on the eve of competition, the anglers will finalize their plan of attack, tweak their tackle and battle butterflies.
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Thursday evening, fans can take in a little Texas at the Classic Kick-Off Party in the Fort Worth Stockyards. Head to Mule Alley to see the legendary Cattle Drive and listen to country music star Jimmie Allen along with other B.A.S.S. presentations.
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B.A.S.S. has not held an event on Ray Roberts, but several Classic qualifiers have found success there. Matt Herren won the Toyota Texas Bass Classic on Ray Roberts in 2016, catching 51-12 over three days.
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Chris Zaldain, who lives in Fort Worth, caught the big bass of the TTBC, a 7-12, winning a truck. Texas, known for big bass fisheries, has been site of two previous Classics: Hank Parker won just about an hour north of Ray Roberts on Lake Texoma in 1979; and Jordan Lee rallied to win near Houston on Lake Conroe in 2017.
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With recent rains, the water level is high on Lake Ray Roberts, turning what was believed to be a deeper water event into a mystery. With water in the bushes, anglers believe there will be fish spread all over the lake.
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Ray Roberts has appeared in the top 10 of Bassmaster Magazine’s annual 100 Best Bass Lakes, ranking 15th in the Central region for 2019. The lake has two main arms with a number of feeder creeks, and much of the 2,000 acres of standing timber is in those upper arms. The trees hold big bass but create navigation issues.
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Construction of the 141-foot-high earthen dam began in 1982. Trees in the lower stretches were bulldozed into giant piles, creating habitat — there are brushpile maps of Lake Ray Roberts. In the early 1990s, the lake level was dropped to add riprap to the dam, and during that time some of the previously submerged treetops broke off.
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Anglers note Ray Roberts is great on quality but not on numbers. Targets are not limited to shore vegetation or the submerged trees, but include riprap on the dam and bridges, stream channels and flooded points, ponds, roadbeds and building structures. Herren won fishing in the back of a cove.
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There is one marina on the lake with a tire breakwall, which Brandon Palaniuk fished at the 2016 TTBC. Despite fishing that event and pre-practicing for the Classic, Palaniuk went into this week’s practice saying anglers have a lot to figure out with the fish scattered. “It looks like nobody’s going to have a clue what’s going on,” he said.
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Anglers estimate it will take 20 pounds a day for a shot to win, but a lunker or two could help build a bag into the upper 20s. This spring, there were a number of Toyota ShareLunkers taken from Ray Roberts, including Mike Laramie’s 8.48 (left) in late February and Sean Bunero’s 8.23 a few days later. “It’s got quite a few 8- to 10-pounders,” Palaniuk said. “So, it may be a deal where a guy gets six bites in a day and has 28 pounds. I honestly think a guy could win the Classic without having a limit every day if he’s getting the right bites.”
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The lake record was set in March of 2015 when Shannon Lee Elvington of Pilot Point landed this 15.18-pounder. The previous best reported there was a 14.59 bass from 2000. A bass in the double digits could help an angler realize the B.A.S.S. maxim of Big Bass. Big Stage. Big Dreams.
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There have been scattered showers much of the week, some chasing anglers off the water during practice, but the system should move on and give anglers a bit more stability as competition begins.
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The 54 competitors all have the goal of winning the big one, and there’s none bigger than the Classic. AOY leader Seth Feider, who said he’s actually had dreams of winning a world championship, sums up what a title means. “Forever your name goes on that trophy,” he said. “You could win that one and never catch another bass as long as you live and you had a good career.”