Rookies Join Bass Fishing Legends In 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Field

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series roster has been set at 111 and will include at least 13 newcomers to the prestigious bass fishing circuit, B.A.S.S. announced today. The new tournament year, which begins in February, also marks the return of legendary angler David Fritts of Lexington, N.C., to B.A.S.S. competition.yvrwiclcuf6smtbkjyeqf7la8fzx-55k-w24kcbjm9e_adtldlh2xd5dthwcakdf5mxryaljmo40evtlwo_p0bsh-xhm8elrgt9aqsbj3unyjh_9t8vqpea-fbctka5ohthdchxxftoilvxcvytahm4wxenrsyhwskpw3pys0-d-e1-ft

“We have seen less attrition among the current Elite anglers and a higher rate of acceptance from Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens qualifiers than ever before,” said Trip Weldon, B.A.S.S. tournament director.

B.A.S.S. guidelines permit up to 15 top Opens competitors — five each from the three divisions — to join the Elite Series each year. This year, 13 of the 15 accepted invitations, compared to 12 in 2015.

In addition to the two declines from the Opens, two Elite Series anglers dropped out after the 2016 season’s end. Former GEICO Bassmaster Classic champion and Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Davy Hite is retiring to become a commentator on Bassmaster TV and “LIVE” programs, and rookie Fabian Rodriguez chose not to return.

Those spots were filled from the current Elite Series roster based on final Angler of the Year points standings.

According to B.A.S.S. tournament rules, the Top 70 in AOY points automatically requalify for the following season. They are joined by up to 15 from the Opens and one qualifier from the B.A.S.S. Nation. Newcomers to the Elites are given a “grace season” should they fail to requalify after the first year. The remaining spots needed to achieve a full field of 108 are awarded based on AOY rankings for each year of an angler’s career, after dropping the lowest score.

“Unfortunately, demand for berths in the Elite Series is greater than the number of spots available, so nine of our Elite anglers were unable to requalify,” Weldon said. “The anglers were offered priority entry into 2017 Bassmaster Opens, in the event they wished to try to qualify for the Elites again.”

Special exemptions added three to the field, bringing the total to 111. One Elite angler, Nate Wellman, is returning from a medical exemption, and two former Classic winners — Paul Elias and Fritts — are taking advantage of a new “Legend Exemption” offered to icons of the sport. Elias, the 1982 Classic winner, has fished the Elite Series since its inception in 2006. Fritts left B.A.S.S. competition in 2005 but expressed elation at being able to return next year.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back to B.A.S.S. and fishing the Elites,” Fritts said. “I used to fish the Top 100s, but when they started the Elites I, ‘semiretired.’ Now, every time I attend the Classic, it brings back memories. It’s a way of life for me, and something I’ve missed out on.”

After winning the Bassmaster Classic in 1993, Fritts, who will be 60 when the 2017 series gets under way, was Bassmaster Angler of the Year in 1994. He also won the Forrest Wood Cup in 1997.

In addition to the legends and veterans, 11 rookies will compete on the 11-event Elite Series trail, including 10 from the Opens and one, Darrell Ocamica of Fruitland, Idaho, who accepted the invitation offered to one of the three top finishers in the 2016 Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan.

Two of the Opens qualifiers, Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark., and Jacob Wheeler of Indianapolis, Ind., were highly successful competitors on the FLW circuit and are considered “newcomers” instead of rookies. Another non-rookie, Chad Pipkens of Holt, Mich., requalified for the Elites as one of the Top 5 in performance points on the Northern Opens circuit.

The 2017 Elite Series kicks off with the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Cherokee in Knoxville and Jefferson County, Tenn., Feb. 9-12. Anglers will compete again two weeks later at Lake Okeechobee, Florida, and then take a break for the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic in Houston, Texas, March 24-26. The Classic and two other marquee tournaments in the Series — Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship — each offers a purse of at least $1 million.

Following are the anglers registered to compete in the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series:

2017 Elite Series Anglers

Angler Hometown/State Qualification Route
Casey Ashley Donalds, SC Elite Series
Adrian Avena Vineland, NJ Elite Series
Drew Benton Panama City, FL Elite Series
Josh Bertrand Gilbert, AZ Elite Series
Tommy Biffle Wagoner, OK Elite Series
Stetson Blaylock Benton, AR Southern Opens
Jay Brainard Enid, OK Elite Series
Stephen Browning Hot Springs, AR Elite Series
Brandon Card Caryville, TN Elite Series
Tyler Carriere* Youngsville, LA Central Opens
Brent Chapman Lake Quivira, KS Elite Series
Hank Cherry Jr. Maiden, NC Elite Series
Jason Christie Park Hill, OK Elite Series
Luke Clausen Spokane, WA Elite Series
Rick Clunn Ava, MO Elite Series
Keith Combs Huntington, TX Elite Series
Dustin Connell* Clanton, AL Southern Opens
Brandon Coulter Knoxville, TN Elite Series
John Crews Jr. Salem, VA Elite Series
Cliff Crochet Pierre Part, LA Elite Series
Mark Daniels Jr.* Tuskegee, AL Southern Opens
Clent Davis Montevallo, AL Elite Series
Mark Davis Mount Ida, AR Elite Series
Ott DeFoe Knoxville, TN Elite Series
Boyd Duckett Guntersville, AL Elite Series
Brent Ehrler Newport Beach, CA Elite Series
James Elam Tulsa, OK Elite Series
Paul Elias Laurel, MS Legend
Edwin Evers Talala, OK Elite Series
Todd Faircloth Jasper, TX Elite Series
Seth Feider Bloomington, MN Elite Series
Micah Frazier Newnan, GA Elite Series
David Fritts Lexington, NC Legend
Chad Grigsby Maple Grove, MN Elite Series
Shaw Grigsby Jr. Gainesville, FL Elite Series
Greg Hackney Gonzales, LA Elite Series
Skylar Hamilton* Dandridge, TN Central Opens
Jamie Hartman* Newport, NY Northern Opens
Matt Herren Ashville, AL Elite Series
Brett Hite Phoenix, AZ Elite Series
Tim Horton Muscle Shoals, AL Elite Series
Randy Howell Guntersville, AL Elite Series
John Hunter Shelbyville, KY Elite Series
Michael Iaconelli Pittsgrove, NJ Elite Series
Kelley Jaye Dadeville, AL Elite Series
Alton Jones Jr.* Lorena, TX Central Opens
Alton Jones Sr. Lorena, TX Elite Series
Kelly Jordon Flint, TX Elite Series
Steve Kennedy Auburn, AL Elite Series
Gary Klein Weatherford, TX Elite Series
Koby Kreiger Bokeelia, FL Elite Series
Jeff Kriet Ardmore, OK Elite Series
Bobby Lane Lakeland, FL Elite Series
Chris Lane Guntersville, AL Elite Series
Russ Lane Prattville, AL Elite Series
Robbie Latuso* Gonzales, LA Central Opens
Jordan Lee Vinemont, AL Elite Series
Matt Lee Guntersville, AL Elite Series
Dave Lefebre Erie, PA Elite Series
Brandon Lester Fayetteville, TN Elite Series
Shane Lineberger Lincolnton, NC Elite Series
Jared Lintner Arroyo Grande, CA Elite Series
Bill Lowen Brookville, IN Elite Series
Justin Lucas Guntersville, AL Elite Series
Aaron Martens Leeds, AL Elite Series
Mike McClelland Bella Vista, AR Elite Series
Mark Menendez Paducah, KY Elite Series
Ish Monroe Hughson, CA Elite Series
Andy Montgomery Blacksburg, SC Elite Series
Chad Morgenthaler Reeds Spring, MO Elite Series
Brock Mosley Collinsville, MS Elite Series
Paul Mueller Naugatuck, CT Elite Series
David Mullins Mount Carmel, TN Elite Series
John Murray Phoenix, AZ Elite Series
Britt Myers Lake Wylie, SC Elite Series
James Niggemeyer Van, TX Elite Series
Darrell Ocamica* Fruitland, ID B.A.S.S. Nation
Takahiro Omori Emory, TX Elite Series
Cliff Pace Petal, MS Elite Series
Brandon Palaniuk Hayden, ID Elite Series
Chad Pipkens Holt, MI Northern Opens
Clifford Pirch Payson, AZ Elite Series
Keith Poche Pike Road, AL Elite Series
Jacob Powroznik Port Haywood, VA Elite Series
Brett Preuett Monroe, LA Elite Series
Cliff Prince Palatka, FL Elite Series
Skeet Reese Auburn, CA Elite Series
Marty Robinson Lyman, SC Elite Series
Dean Rojas Lake Havasu City, AZ Elite Series
Scott Rook Little Rock, AR Elite Series
Fred Roumbanis Russellville, AR Elite Series
Bradley Roy Lancaster, KY Elite Series
Bernie Schultz Gainesville, FL Elite Series
Terry Scroggins San Mateo, FL Elite Series
Morizo Shimizu Osaka, Japan