CELEBRATION, Fla. — Though it's still several months away, pro anglers fishing the Elite Series are getting pumped about the newly introduced Bassmaster Majors the Bassmaster Memorial, Bassmaster American and Bassmaster Legends — three stand-alone, no-entry-fee events that boast huge payouts and same-day TV coverage on the final day while anglers fish from their own wrapped boats.
"The Majors are the way we need to go to increase exposure for the sport ... everything is headed in the right direction," said Rick Clunn, a 29-time Classic qualifier and winner of the Greatest Angler Debate presented by John Deere.
The Majors, one each scheduled in May, July and August 2006, will feature 50 of the world's best anglers battling at prime fishing locations around the country. Each tournament is dedicated to a person who played a significant role in BASS' history — Don Butler, the first BASS member and winner of the second CITGO Bassmaster Classic; Brain Kerchal, the only Federation champion to win the Classic; and Ray Scott, BASS founder.
"The Bassmaster Memorial, American and Legends are three exclusive tournaments that will bring the very best professional BASS fishermen together for an intense, four-day competition," said Don Rucks, BASS vice president and general manager. "With more television coverage, sponsor-wrapped boats and a $250,000 top prize, the Majors will create a value for anglers and sponsors unlike any regular season event we've ever had."
This will be the first time since BASS was acquired by ESPN in 2001 that a regular-season tournament receives prominent airtime on the network, Rucks added. Each of the Majors' final day weigh-in will be televised the same day on ESPN2, offering fans at home up-to-the-minute information.
"This is a great step and something anglers have been wanting for a long time," said 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Classic winner Kevin VanDam. "For the whole plan that ESPN has announced, this is a key part and the model in the future to really raise the bar and create opportunities for more anglers."
2003 Bassmaster Classic champion Michael Iaconelli believes the additional exposure will help anglers garner more individual sponsorships. "The biggest stumbling blocks in selling to big companies have always been TV coverage and visibility," he said. "For me, it's going to mean putting more money in my pocket."
Competition will be fierce among the world's top 50 pros as they fish for a total prize purse of nearly $2 million in no-entry-fee tournaments that pay down 25 places, including a $250,000 first-place prize per event. "Having no-entry-fee events is historical," added Clunn.
Current Bassmaster Classic champion Kevin VanDam, who won two of the four Elite 50 events in 2005, says anglers often enjoy the intensity of smaller fields. "The thing I really enjoyed about fishing those (Elite 50s) is the exclusivity of the field. The level of sportsmanship and competition has never been higher."
In addition to the competitive fishing and daily weigh-ins, each Major will feature an expanded Outdoors Expo for fans and anglers to enjoy.
To qualify for the select, 50-field Bassmaster Majors, anglers must be a CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series professional in good standing. As with the Elite Series, 2006 will be a transition year comprised of:
" The top 10 anglers on the all-time BASS money list
" The top 40 anglers with the highest Angler of the Year standings based on 2004, 2005 and 2006 standings prior to that Major
" Other anglers who qualify based on previous announcements