Table Rock Lake is site of this week’s Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Championship, where seven berths to the 2019 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods will be awarded.
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In 2018, the Opens format changed to two divisions, Central and Eastern, with four events in each, and the season culminates with the top 28 pros and co-anglers fishing the championship. Qualifiers had to fish all four events in that division and either win an event or finish in the top 10 in the point standings, plus double qualifiers.
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The venue is Missouri’s Table Rock Lake, a 43,100-acre impoundment of the White River near Springfield, headquarters of Bass Pro Shops. B.A.S.S. has held 13 pro events on Table Rock in its 50 years, including two Elite tournaments.
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The 56 anglers will take off each day at 7:15 a.m. CT from Bass Pro Shops’ Long Creek Marina, 1368 Long Creek Road, Ridgedale, Mo. Fans are invited to attend and come back for the 3:15 p.m. weigh-ins there Thursday and Friday.
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The co-angler champion will be crowned Friday and receive a boat package as well as entry fees for next year’s Opens as either pro or co. AOY payouts for co-anglers begin at $10,000 for first in each co-angler division. The Top 12 pros advance to fish Saturday, which will be aired on Bassmaster LIVE. The weigh-in moves to 4:30 p.m. at the “Granddaddy” of all Bass Pro Shops, 1935 S. Campbell Ave, Springfield, Mo. 65807.
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“Table Rock Lake has a storied history in the annals of B.A.S.S. fishing, and we’re anticipating another great event at the Ozarks fishery,” B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin said. “Fans who attend will get to see some of the future stars of the Elite Series — and maybe even next year’s Classic winner — at the weigh-ins or on the water.”
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At less than 3 feet from full pool now, Table Rock Lake has around 745 miles of shoreline and a maximum depth of 220 feet. The lake was named for a rock formation near the dam that resembles a table. There are plenty more rocks and bluffs along the waterway.
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The lake supports largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. There is a good population of fish, but 15-inch minimum lengths on all species will make the winners earn it whether they fish deep or unlock the shallow largemouth bite.
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“You can expect a lot of bites. But with the 15-inch minimum size limit, it can be hard to find keepers,” said qualifier Brock Mosley, an Elite Series angler. “You’ll catch a mixture of all three species — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some 15-pound bags that have at least one of each.”
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Fall weather taking a grip in the area is another wild card. “This is not going to be a straight, down-the-line, this-is-what-will-happen kind of tournament,” former Elite Carl Jocumsen said. “The lake is going to change every day at this time of year.”
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The anglers might end up feeling the weather is for the birds. A blast of cold air in the upper 30s greeted them for practice Monday morning. Things will warm up a little through the week with sun and near upper 60s by Wednesday. Day 1 temperatures range from mid-40s to 60 with clouds, and rain is forecast for Friday with temps climbing about 10 degrees in the day to the upper 50s. Saturday calls for a cold morning at 38, clouds and a high of 62.
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Mike McClelland is the most recent B.A.S.S. winner on Table Rock after totaling 44 pounds, 4 ounces in his Open win in March of 2017. Key for him, he said, was matching his lure to the size of the small threadfin shad that bass were eating. McClelland also won the 2014 Elite event on Table Rock with 61-15.
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That Elite was also a spring event, but James Watson was the last fall event winner on Table Rock, catching 46-4 to take an Open win in early October of 2015. So an average of around 15 pounds a day often spells victory on Table Rock.
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There have been exceptions, like Wayne Crumpton’s Missouri Invitational victory in 1999 where he averaged almost 20 pounds a day in his total of 58-13. Yet that was in March, as was Greg Hackney’s 2005 Tour win with 57-9 over four days. Todd Faircloth won the 2006 Elite in September with 50-9, and Kevin Short won the 2011 Open in late October with a scant 33-8.
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Patrick Walters of South Carolina completed the impressive feat of triple qualifying for the Opens Championship. He won the Central Open on the Red River and finished ninth in the Central standings and 11th in the Eastern, but his hopes of earning a Classic bid lie in winning this week.
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The event winner along with the top 3 pros in the final point standings of each division will receive Classic berths. The top spots in the Central are occupied by Frank Talley (above), Brad Whatley and Toby Hartsell, while Bobby Lane, Brandon Lester and Garrett Paquette lead the Eastern. Their leads make it difficult for them to be passed.
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The event could make for strange bedfellows, as there is only a potential of a 28-point swing. That means most of the anglers know they have to win to receive a Classic berth. Hartsell has 716 points and, with the right finishes, can mathematically catch Talley (740 points) and make up the 24-point difference to win the Central AOY, which would secure the Classic berth, the $17,000 top prize for points champion and an invitation to fish the Elite Series.
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Derek Hudnall, fourth in the Central with 708 points, is 32 back of Talley and cannot surpass him. If Hudnall doesn’t pass Hartsell, but maintains fourth in the points, he might end up rooting that any of the three in front of him win the event, which would give him the third remaining Classic spot from the Central standings. There are only several others with the mathematical potential to pass those ahead of them for a Classic spot, but they’ll need someone ahead of them in their Division to win.
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So potentially, an angler might not make Saturday’s championship round -- and therefore could hang around and ride the Branson Belle on Table Rock -- but would want to be at the weigh-in to see if they will fish the Classic next year on the Tennessee River out of Knoxville.
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Those anglers would have to head an hour north of Table Rock to Springfield, where they might reduce some anxiety by visiting Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium. It’s adjacent to the Bass Pro Shops where the tension-packed weigh-in will be held.
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Inside the WOW facility, the dreamers might want to see the National Bass Fishing Hall of Fame and wonder what their plaque would look like. But they best be sure to get to the B.A.S.S. stage by 4:30 p.m. for the penultimate pro level weigh-in of 2018.
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Three more Classic berths that will be decided the following week at the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster Classic Bracket on Carter’s Lake out of Ellijay, Ga. If Jared Lintner doesn’t win the Opens Championship, he will have to make the 10-hour drive and go up against 15 other Elites who will battle Oct. 23-26 to decide three more Classic spots.
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Chad Pipkens is in the same boat as Lintner, needing to win on Table Rock so he won’t have a quick turnaround drive to the Bracket competition. “I’d love to take the win, my boat, the money, the trophy, my Classic berth and head straight home,” Pipkens said. “But if not, I have to go to Georgia, do well, then beat a couple people.” There are two more events this year to fill the Classic field, the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors on Pickwick Lake, Nov. 8-10, and the Bassmaster Team Championships on the Harris Chain of Lake Dec. 5-8.