Bass Angler Magazine

What New Rookies Join 2017 Bassmaster Elite Field

The 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series roster has been set at 111 and will include at least 13 newcomers (shown in bold below) 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.

“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    Elite Series
Fletcher Shryock    New Philadelphia, OH    Elite Series
Brian Snowden    Reeds Spring, MO    Elite Series
Gerald Spohrer*    Gonzales, LA    Central Opens
Gerald Swindle    Guntersville, AL    Elite Series
Jesse Tacoronte*    Orlando, FL    Northern Opens
Randall Tharp    Port St. Joe, FL    Elite Series
Jonathon VanDam    Kalamazoo, MI    Elite Series
Kevin VanDam    Kalamazoo, MI    Elite Series
Greg Vinson    Wetumpka, AL    Elite Series
David Walker    Sevierville, TN    Elite Series
Nate Wellman    Newaygo, MI    Elite Series
Jacob Wheeler    Indianapolis, IN    Northern Opens
Jesse Wiggins*    Cullman, AL    Southern Opens
David Williams    Newton, NC    Elite Series
Jason Williamson    Wagener, SC    Elite Series
Chris Zaldain    San Jose, CA    Elite Series

(*—denotes Elite Series rookie)

2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota

2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Power-Pole, Yamaha, Berkley, Huk

2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: T-H Marine, Lowrance, Phoenix Boats, Rapala, Shell Rotella, Shimano, Academy Sports + Outdoors, Carhartt, Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels, Livingston Lures

About B.A.S.S.
B.A.S.S. is the worldwide authority on bass fishing and keeper of the culture of the sport, providing cutting edge content on bass fishing whenever, wherever and however bass fishing fans want to use it. 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, Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation presented by Magellan, Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops, Costa Bassmaster High School Series presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship and the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing, the GEICO Bassmaster Classic.

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