Rookies Join Bass Fishing Legends In 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Field

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.

“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 Outdoors.

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 Hardship

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)