Jacob Powroznik of Port Haywood, Va., jumps to second place in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points on the first day of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship held on Sturgeon Bay out of Door County, Wis. Photo by Seigo Saito/Bassmaster
DOOR COUNTY, Wis. — One million dollars is on the line for the Top 50 Bassmaster Elite Series anglers as the 2015 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship began this morning on Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.
It’s a tournament unlike any other event in the Elite Series. It’s all about the cumulative points each angler amasses through finishes in eight regular season tournaments plus the the AOY Championship. As Bassmaster Emcee Dave Mercer put it today: “These are the final days of a year-long tournament.”
At stake are berths in the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro — the prestigious “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing” — and shares in the $1 million purse.
The Angler of the Year title, however, has already been decided. Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., claimed the crown in one of the most dominating seasons in Bassmaster history. With little at stake here, he’s out to have a good time fishing.
“I’m fishing for fun, but I’m making sure I don’t catch fish that another angler needs to improve their standings in the AOY race,” Martens said. “There’s no pressure for me to perform here, and I kind of like that.”
By finishing in sixth place at the final regular-season tournament on Lake St. Clair out of Detroit, Mich. Martens earned enough points to become untouchable and clinched his third AOY title.
The real story that’s developing on Sturgeon Bay is among the anglers battling for the required points to qualify for the Classic on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, Oklahoma.
The Top 24 anglers in the points only had to catch one fish today to earn a Classic berth, and each of them did. The proverbial bubble exists within a few places either side of 40th, which is the Classic cutoff.
These anglers have the most to lose or gain by their performance at this tournament.
“I experienced some gear-related problems this morning and that really set me back,” said Michael Iaconelli, the 2006 Bassmaster Angler of the Year. “The best fish I was catching during practice were in the morning, and I lost over two hours of fishing time while working things out. Fortunately, I managed to find enough bass to help me move up in points. Now my goal is to get out there tomorrow and improve on today’s weight and secure a Classic berth.”
Iaconelli started the day out in 45th place, but after weighing four bass totaling 11 pounds, 7 ounces he unofficially moved up to 38th, which is just inside the Classic cut. If he can stay consistent, he might remain in contention to compete in his 15th consecutive Bassmaster Classic.
Jacob Powroznik was holding down fourth place in the AOY race, but weighed the fourth largest limit of smallmouth bass with 20-1. He has now moved him into second place in points, unofficially. If that position improvement holds, he will tack on an additional $15,000 in prize money.
“Today I managed to get only 10 bites, and after I had five good bass in the livewell, I left it alone,” Powroznik said. “I think the same quality fish will be there again tomorrow, but they all have that old-fish look. That tells me they’ve seen lures before and will be harder to convince.”
Powroznik is fishing an area that is about 200 yards long that has been holding quite a few fish. But if the wind picks up out of the northwest, staying on the best part of his location could become difficult.
An interesting situation is brewing with Todd Faircloth, who won the Plano Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair a month ago. Coming into that tournament his chances of making the 2016 Classic were dismal at best. However, after that victory, fishing the Classic on Grand Lake is now a real possibility.
“I told myself that I wouldn’t put any added pressure on my season by focusing on the points I needed to make the Classic cut,” said the 13-time Classic contender. “I had a great year capped off by a victory on St. Clair. But, after a solid day out there, I’m really thinking the Classic is a possibility.”
Faircloth began his day in 40th place — currently the last place that will qualify for the Classic. After bringing a fine limit of bass to the scales Thursday afternoon weighing 18-5, he is currently in 33rd place, unofficially. A solid second and third day will lock in his 14th Bassmaster Classic appearance.
Takeoff will be Friday morning out of CenterPointe Marina at 6:30 a.m. CT. Afternoon weigh-in will be held in the same location beginning at 3:15 p.m.
On Saturday, Sept. 19, all 50 anglers will participate in Bassmaster University, which will take place during the day at CenterPointe Mariana. Anglers, including former AOYs Kevin VanDam, Michael Iaconelli and Skeet Reese, will be available for meet-and-greets, bass-fishing advice and seminars. Local vendors and sponsors will also be on-hand to discuss products and services.
Also on Saturday as part of its Bassmaster Fan and Military Appreciation Day, B.A.S.S. will give a special commemorative Bassmaster cap to the first 250 military service members who come to the B.A.S.S. booth with a military identification card. All 50 Elite anglers will be on hand to sign autographs as well.
Activities planned throughout the weekend are free and open to the public. Companies like Mercury, Nitro, Skeeter, Triton, and Yamaha will have booths at the expo and will offer demo rides. Toyota, Carhartt, Berkley, Booyah, Humminbird, Livingston Lures, Lowrance, Minn Kota, Mustang, Plano, Power-Pole, Shimano, Rigid Industries and Costa Sunglasses, will also exhibit.
For more event information, including the Bassmaster University schedule, visit Bassmaster.com.
The local hosts for the event are the Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center and the Door County Visitor Bureau.
2015 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Toyota, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, GoPro, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha
2015 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: A.R.E. Accessories, Carhartt, Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels, Huk Performance Fishing, Livingston Lures, Lowrance, Power-Pole, Rigid Industries, Shimano
B.A.S.S. is the worldwide authority on bass fishing and keeper of the culture of the sport. Headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., the 500,000-member organization’s fully integrated media platforms include the industry’s leading magazines (Bassmaster and B.A.S.S. Times), website (Bassmaster.com), television show (The Bassmasters on ESPN2), social media programs and events. For more than 45 years, B.A.S.S. has been dedicated to access, conservation and youth fishing.
The Bassmaster Tournament Trail includes the most prestigious events at each level of competition, including the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open Series presented by Allstate, Old Milwaukee B.A.S.S. Nation events, Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops, Costa Bassmaster High School Series, Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship and the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing, the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.