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2014 Elite Series Targets America's Hottest Bass Lakes
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series promises to be one for the history books. The 100 or so Elite Series anglers who compete on the nation's premier bass tournament circuit will visit rivers, reservoirs and natural lakes in 11 states as they vie for fame, fortune and a berth in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
Several of the fisheries are steeped in B.A.S.S. lore, and the others soon will be.
"We've just finished an Elite Series season that saw record attendance, record Internet traffic and record media coverage," said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin, "but we're already looking forward to all that 2014 will hold."
The Elite Series, which has included eight events for the past five years, will grow to nine tournaments next year, he added, and one of them will include a fan-attracting "BASSfest" reminiscent of the old summertime Bassmaster Classics and with a $1,000,000 prize purse.
And for the first time in Bassmaster tournament history, the ninth and final event of the Elite Series will be the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship in which the Top 50 Elite anglers will compete for a share of the $900,000 AOY payout, along with Bassmaster Classic berths and what many of the pros consider the ultimate prize, the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year trophy.
The Elite Series kicks off in Bainbridge, Ga., at Lake Seminole, March 13-16. Seminole has been the site of 13 previous B.A.S.S. events, including the very first tournament ever conducted under the auspices of B.A.S.S., fishing's largest membership organization. Two earlier events were run by founder Ray Scott in 1967, but the organization had not yet been formally created. This will be the first Elite event on Seminole and the first B.A.S.S. event on its waters since a Bassmaster Southern Open in 2010.
From Seminole, the Elite anglers will head southeast to Palatka, Fla., and the St. Johns River, March 20-23, where 18 previous professional tournaments have taken place, including Elite events in 2011 and 2012. The St. Johns produced the first 10-pound bass in B.A.S.S. competition history in 1973, and double-digit fish could be plentiful at this springtime event. Edwin Evers won the 2011 Elite stop at the St. Johns, while Alton Jones took top honors in 2012.
After a short break, the trail moves to Branson, Mo., and Table Rock Lake, April 3-6. "The Rock" has been the scene of 13 previous B.A.S.S. tournaments won by such legends as Bill Dance and John Powell, as well as several Elite anglers. In 2006, Todd Faircloth won what was arguably the toughest Elite tournament in history. But that was in September; fishing will be much better in April, and mixed bags of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass will show the versatility of this great fishery.
B.A.S.S. has been competing on Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Louisiana-Texas border almost since the lake began to fill in 1969. Considered the best bass fishery in America during the 1970s, "the Bend" is once again on everyone's short list as a top fishery. May 1-4 will mark B.A.S.S.'s 15th visit to the lake and the ninth time Many, La., has played host. The most recent stops were Elite events in 2011 and 2012 won by Dean Rojas and Brent Chapman, respectively.
The fifth stop will be Arkansas' Lake Dardanelle, May 15-18, the site of one of the Elite Series' most dramatic tournaments in 2009. That year, Mark Menendez borrowed an aluminum boat and pushed and pulled the smaller, lighter vessel through a tiny culvert to fish an area bigger boats couldn't reach. His extraordinary efforts paid off with an early spring win. In 2014, though, the tournament will be almost two months later, so different areas and methods will likely prevail.
Following Dardanelle, the Elites move east to Dayton, Tenn., and Chickamauga Lake, June 11-15, for the newest celebration of bass fishing, BASSfest. The weeklong, fan-friendly festival will be highlighted by Elite No. 6, to which some of the top Bassmaster Opens pros will be invited to test their skills against the best bass fishermen in the nation.
Dayton is known for the celebrated "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925, but to bass anglers, Chickamauga is famous as the site of the 1986 Bassmaster Classic won by the late Charlie Reed. Known for small, keeper bass back then, Chickamauga has "evolved" into one of the hottest big-bass fisheries in the nation, currently ranking sixth on the Bassmaster's "100 Best Bass Lakes" list for 2013.
When George Washington crossed the Delaware River in 1776 to surprise Hessian troops occupying New Jersey, there's no record that he stopped to do any bass fishing. For that, we're actually grateful. Nevertheless, that's exactly what the Elite pros will be doing when they take off from Philadelphia, Pa., Aug. 7-10. It's the City of Brotherly Love, the city that gave us famed fictional prizefighter Rocky Balboa, and the old stomping grounds of 2003 Bassmaster Classic champion Mike Iaconelli. But you can bet that when Ike strikes the famous Rocky pose on the weigh-in stage and lifts his hands in the air, he'll have two good bass in them.
Elite No. 8 will be held on Cayuga Lake out of Ithaca, N.Y., Aug. 21-24. Cayuga is one of the famed "Finger Lakes" and has hosted just one previous B.A.S.S. event — a 2012 Northern Open. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo teased the event in August, when he announced to the crowd at the Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown at St. Lawrence River in Waddington, N.Y., that one of the Finger Lakes would host an Elite event in 2014. An avid fisherman, Cuomo also noted that he will host a special "Governor's Cup" bass tournament involving political leaders and celebrities in conjunction with the event.
The Cayuga clash will be a make-or-break event, for only the Top 50 anglers in Toyota Angler of the Year points will go on to fish the Toyota Angler of the Year Championship Sept. 18-21. The location of the championship will be announced at a later date.
With the addition of the championship, Toyota All-Star Week will not be held next year.
Marshal registration for the Bassmaster Classic and the 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series begins online at Bassmaster.com for B.A.S.S. Nation and Life members on Oct. 1 at 9 a.m. CT. Phone registration for B.A.S.S. Nation and Life members begins Oct. 3 at 9 a.m. CT by calling 877-227-7872. Other B.A.S.S. members may register online beginning Oct. 8 at 9 a.m. CT and by phone beginning Oct. 10 at 9 a.m. CT.
Following is a list of 2014 Elite Series tournaments:
Date Tournament Destination Fishery
Feb. 21-23 Bassmaster Classic Birmingham, Ala. Lake Guntersville
March 13-16 Elite 1 Bainbridge, Ga. Lake Seminole
March 20-23 Elite 2 Palatka, Fla. St. Johns River
April 3-6 Elite 3 Branson, Mo. Table Rock Lake
May 1-4 Elite 4 Many, La. Toledo Bend Reservoir
May 15-18 Elite 5 Russellville, Ark. Lake Dardanelle
June 11-15 Elite 6 Dayton, Tenn. Chickamauga Lake
Aug. 7-10 Elite 7 Philadelphia, Pa. Delaware River
Aug. 21-24 Elite 8 Ithaca, N.Y. Cayuga Lake
Sept. 18-21 AOY Championship To Be Announced
Cherry Wraps Up Bassmaster All-Star Win After 'Perfect Day'
MUSKEGON, Mich. — There's not a suggestion of rookie green clinging to Hank Cherry now.
A first-year Bassmaster Elite Series pro when the season began in March, Cherry of Maiden, N.C., has his first Elite Series win in the bag.
In Sunday's final-day, four-angler shootout in the Evan Williams Bourbon Championship, Cherry won the $50,000 first prize by a margin of 2 pounds, 10 ounces.
"This is unbelievable," he said. "I'm sky-high. I lost no fish today; nothing went wrong. It was just a perfect day."
Cherry weighed in 17 pounds, 8 ounces of smallmouth bass, easily getting the best of local favorite Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich. VanDam posted 14-14 for the runner-up spot.
Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., finished third with 11-6. Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., was fourth with 10-15.
The Sept. 27-29 championship, part of Toyota All-Star Week out of Muskegon, began with 14 Bassmaster Elite Series pros. Each competed for two days on Muskegon Lake. Only the four pros with the highest Muskegon Lake weights made the cut to move to White Lake's final leg.
With Muskegon weights dropped, the four went head-to-head, starting from scratch.
Cherry became the second rookie to win a Bassmaster Elite Series postseason event. Ott DeFoe won in 2011 to close out his rookie season.
Cherry is not your typical rookie. He had years of experience competing in various circuits before he joined the Bass Pro Shops Opens series in 2011. At the end of his second year as an Opens pro, he won an event on Alabama's Smith Lake and walked away with a 2013 Classic berth. He also qualified for the 2013 Elite season.
In his first Classic appearance, he finished in third-place. (He still looks back with pain on a lost fish that he says cost him the Classic win.) By the end of the regular eight-event Elite Series season, he had won the 2013 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race. He finished 14th in points, easily securing a Classic berth for 2014.
Sunday on White Lake, Cherry stuck to a pattern of throwing a swimbait off long points, the same pattern that produced for him on Muskegon for two days to get him to the final round.
"I was around a lot of bait and a lot of fish," said Cherry, adding that he caught about 25 bass throughout the day. Most of them took his Damiki swimbait rigged on a 1/4-ounce jighead with a 4/0 hook, all in various shad finishes.
His key spot was special because of an underwater sandbar that created a "huge current break," he said, which set up as a perfect spot for smallmouth bass chasing baitfish.
"The shad were there in bunches around that breakline. That's all it was," he said.
One flurry of catches on his magic spot that lasted about 45 minutes sealed the deal for him.
"I caught a 4 (pounder), a 4, a 3, a 2/12, a 2/12. I don't know what happened to turn them on," he said.
An early-day decision to give up on his quest for largemouth, for which White Lake has a reputation, paid off.
"I just stopped and said, 'I'm going smallmouth fishing,'" he said.
When a reporter asked if he still felt like a rookie, Cherry replied: "I feel like a champ."
The event's Carhartt Big Bass award of $1,000, plus another $500 for wearing Carhartt apparel went to Pace. He took the award for his 4-14 smallmouth of Friday from Muskegon Lake.
Cherry received the $1,000 Power-Pole bonus.
Running concurrently with the Elite Series event was the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Classic Bracket on Grand River. The coveted prize of that event, an entry in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, was won by Jordan Lee of Auburn University in Auburn, Ala.
On Sunday, eliminated Elite pros paired up with veterans and other guests in the Folds of Honor Foundation Pro-Am presented by ARE. The Folds of Honor Foundation provides educational scholarships to the dependents of service members killed or disabled while serving our country. Contribution buckets were passed through the crowd at the weigh-in to support the cause.
Bassmaster fan Clay Wilson of Rogers, Ark., won the Toyota All-Star Fan Favorite Angler Sweepstakes prize of a 2014 Toyota Tundra valued at $35,000. His name had been randomly paired with Cherry's before the competition began.
TV coverage of Toyota All-Star Week will be presented on The Bassmasters on Sunday, Oct. 13, on ESPN2, in three hour-long shows. At 2-3 p.m. ET, and again at 4-5 p.m., the first show will set the stage. Two more shows about the competition will air at 6-7 and 7-8 p.m. ET.
2013 Evan Williams Bourbon Championship 9/27-9/29
Muskegon Lake, Muskegon, Mich.
(PROFESSIONAL) Standings Day 3
Angler Hometown No./lbs-oz Pts Total $$$
1. Hank Cherry Maiden, NC 5 17-08 0 $51,000.00
Day 1: 5 13-08 Day 2: 5 16-13 Day 3: 5 17-08
2. Kevin VanDam Kalamazoo, MI 5 14-14 0 $12,000.00
Day 1: 5 14-00 Day 2: 5 12-06 Day 3: 5 14-14
3. Cliff Pace Petal, MS 5 11-06 0 $11,500.00
Day 1: 5 14-04 Day 2: 4 12-01 Day 3: 5 11-06
4. Edwin Evers Talala, OK 5 10-15 0 $8,000.00
Day 1: 5 13-03 Day 2: 5 13-03 Day 3: 5 10-15
CARHARTT BIG BASS
Cliff Pace Petal, MS 04-14 $1,000.00
Day #Limits #Fish Weight
1 12 66 162-14
2 10 63 163-12
3 4 20 54-11
26 149 381-05
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