BIRMINGHAM — A star-studded field of 111 professional bass anglers — including a mix of rookies, legends and veterans from other tournament circuits — will make up the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series field when competition begins on Lake Martin in February.
The lineup includes 99 anglers who competed in the Elite Series this year. They will be joined by 11 first-time Elite qualifiers and one Elite veteran, Rick Morris of Lake Gaston, Virginia, who is returning to the prestigious pro circuit after a three-year hiatus.
“The Elite field is getting stronger every year,” BASS Tournament Director Trip Weldon said. “Some of the anglers who achieved Elite status in the last few years — including Bassmaster Classic champion Jordan Lee [of Guntersville] — are already proving they belong in the top tier of this sport.
“I expect some of the pros qualifying from the Bassmaster Opens will become forces to be reckoned with right away too.”
Weldon said that only three of the 15 qualifiers from the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens declined invitations to compete in the Elite Series.
Among those climbing in from the Opens is Hunter Shryock, brother of veteran Elite pro Fletcher Shryock, and at least two standouts from the FLW Tour.
Shin Fukae and Wesley Strader have each won about $1.5 million in long careers with FLW. Because of their previous winnings, Fukae and Strader will not be eligible for Bassmaster Rookie of the Year honors next year.
Heading the list of anglers requalifying for the 11-event circuit are Brandon Palaniuk of Hayden, Idaho, the reigning Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year, and seven-time AOY winner Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Also returning are 17 former Classic winners, including Lee. Three of those, Rick Clunn of Ava, Missouri; David Fritts of Lexington, North Carolina, and Paul Elias of Laurel, Mississippi, narrowly missed requalifying this year but were given special “Legends” exemptions available to past Classic champions and AOY winners.
Requalifying through the Elites is based on Angler of the Year points earned the previous season.
Newcomers also get a one-year grace period that guarantees them a second season.
Should Opens anglers or others decline invitations, those spots are filled from a list based on average rankings in Angler of the Year points over the anglers’ careers.
Another nine Elite Series anglers failed to requalify this year and will have to climb back in through the Bassmaster Opens, said Weldon, who noted that they were offered priority entry into the 2018 Opens.
Other Marshall County anglers in the Elite field are Boyd Duckett, Randy Howell, Chris Lane, Matt Lee, Justin Lucas and Gerald Swindle, all of Guntersville.
After the kickoff Elite tournament in February, the anglers will break for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods on Lake Hartwell, South Carolina, March 16-18. Eight more regular-season Elites will occur between April and August.
As in 2017, the Elite postseason will include the $1 million Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, to take place on Lake Chatuge, Georgia, Sept. 20-23, and the live-streamed Bassmaster Classic Bracket Fish-Off from Oct. 23-26 on Carters Lake, Georgia.