- Ken Duke
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The field for the most prestigious fishing tournament circuit in the world is starting to take shape. Eighty-four of the best bass anglers in the world are already signed up to compete in the 2009 Bassmaster Elite Series.
The current field boasts 11 former Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Anglers of the Year, including current AOY Kevin VanDam, and 11 former Bassmaster Classic champions, including defending champ Alton Jones.
Here's the list of anglers currently committed to fish the Elite Series:
At the end of the 2008 Elite Series season, the 84 top ranking pros in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings had earned an invitation to rejoin the field again in 2009. After the conclusion of the 2008 Southern Opens season, another 10 anglers earned the right to join the season, including several who were already qualified through their performance in the Elite Series. This opened the door for more of the Elite pros to rejoin despite a tough 2008.
One of the Elite pros who benefited from the double qualifications of his Elite brethren was popular Ohio pro, Charlie Hartley, who had been on the outside looking in and wondering if he would get to fish the Elite Series in 2009.
"The 2008 season was a real roller coaster for me," Hartley said. "After such a strong Classic performance (he led the first day and finished 15th), I was disappointed to say the least. I'm very thankful to be given another chance. I promise you I'll do my best to take advantage of it."
Ten anglers will earn berths in the 2009 Elite season by way of the Southern Opens and 10 more from the Central Opens. Since the Southern Open season ended after the Lake Guntersville, Ala., tournament earlier this month, that list of qualifiers has started to take shape.
Four of the qualifiers will be Elite rookies should they sign up and post their first entry fee deposit: Matt Herren, Greg Pugh and Greg Vinson of Alabama and Luke Gritter of Michigan. These anglers have until Dec. 2 to make up their minds and submit their first payment installments.
The other six anglers earning Elite berths through the Southern Opens are Elite veterans. Jim Murray, Zell Rowland and Pat Golden earned berths because Bobby Lane, Terry Scroggins and Aaron Martens double qualified through the Elites and the Southern Opens. Similarly, Preston Clark, Peter Thliveros and Casey Ashley earned berths through both routes and opened up spots for Kurt Dove, Dave Smith and Yusuke Miyazake.
Elton Luce and Charlie Hartley rejoined the Elites when Ben Matsubu and Corey Waldrop dropped out of the Series and opened up two more spots.
As many as 10 more anglers may earn berths through the Central Opens. That season ends on Nov. 1 at Texas' Lake Texoma.
Several Elite Series anglers who are already qualified to fish the Elite Series in 2009 are within striking distance of double qualifying through the Central Opens, including Jami Fralick, Rick Clunn, Bradley Hallman, Terry Butcher, Preston Clark and Clark Reehm. Also in the hunt from the Central Opens is longtime BASS pro Lucy Mize who, with a very strong performance at Texoma, could become the first woman to qualify for the Elite Series and join her husband Jimmy on that Tournament Trail.