In just a little more than six weeks, the Super Bowl of Fishing, The Bassmaster Classic, will be rolling into Greenville and the Upstate. During the week of Feb. 16-22, the best 56 bass anglers in the country will be competing on Lake Hartwell for the largest prize in fishing.
The tournament fishing dates will be Feb. 20-22, but fans of bass fishing can expect to find the anglers practicing before the tournament, meeting and greeting fans afterward and promoting their sponsors at various locations and events several days ahead of the tournament.
To qualify for the Classic, bass anglers compete in several divisions under the Bassmaster umbrella. The top of these divisions are the Elites. To fish as a competitor in the Elite tournament trail, you have to work your way through the farm leagues and qualify to compete.
The majority of Bassmaster Classic qualifiers get in by finishing in the top 29 spots in the Angler Of The Year from the Elite trail. Winning one of the Elite tournaments or last year’s Classic is an automatic invitation and pushes the ranks down as an AOY points qualifier. That’s why this year’s field goes as deep as 40th in AOY.
This year’s Classic permitted two defending champion entries because the 2013 winner was seriously injured in a deer hunting tree stand accident last year and could not fish. Bassmaster has allowed him to defer to this year.
Six Classic spots are split among the three championship winners in the Northern, Central and Southern divisions in the Bassmaster Opens. Open tournaments are just that — pay your money and fish. Anyone can compete. Win an Open tournament and fish all of the events in that division, and you’re in.
This year, Bassmaster has allowed the winner of the College Series Classic in the Classic. College series fish in teams, so the top four teams in the college classic split up into individual boats and fished a winner-takes-all bracket for that spot.
BASS Nation is one of the farm leagues under the Bassmaster umbrella. Six berths in the Classic were reserved for BASS Nation Championship winners that fished on the Ouchita River in Louisiana in November 2014.
The Bassmaster Team Series is another farm league. One berth was reserved for the weekender series.
Skepticism over who gets to fish the Classic and who doesn’t always arises when big names like Kevin Van Dam and Davy Hite (or whoever your favorite pro angler is) doesn’t get a spot and somebody you never heard of who fished in some far-away open championship does.
The promoters concede the process can be a bit confusing but feel the strategy allows a good mix of the best anglers across the country to compete in one spot to see who will be crowned the best of the best.