We are less than a week away from the first event of the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series season, and there is still time to create your Bassmaster Fantasy team for the first event to win prizes! Before each event, we will be making our suggestions on which anglers to pick by giving you the option between two anglers per bucket. These picks will be based on anglers’ history on certain fisheries, momentum, strengths, and more.

NOTE: Since Toledo Bend and Lake Fork are back-to-back events, we went ahead and published our picks for Lake Fork as well.

Let’s dive into it!


Bucket A: Jordan Lee or Patrick Walters

(Photos courtesy of Bassmaster)

These are two great picks for Toledo Bend no matter the time of year. Lee is looking to pick up right where he left off with his accomplishments as a Bassmaster angler in his early career, and Walters is looking to pick up right where he left off with his win at the final Elite Series event of last year. Of course, Greg Hackney is the favorite as he is known for his success in Texas and Louisiana, but if you want to set yourself apart from the other Fantasy Fishing players then you might want to consider these other two anglers. Jordan Lee has had much success in Texas and Louisiana on the MLF Bass Pro Tour, and not to mention the first of his back-to-back Bassmaster Classic wins was in Texas during the pre-spawn. The Elites haven’t visited Toledo Bend since Patrick Walters joined; however, Walters has had a tremendous amount of success on fisheries like Fork, Ray Roberts, and Sabine River. Walters is also great at throwing a jerkbait while utilizing forward-facing sonar, which could be a huge player this time of year.


Bucket B: Jason Christie or Ben Milliken

(Photos courtesy of Bassmaster)

There is no doubt that Jason Christie will be a player at any lake in the early spring, especially when it’s a shallow water fishing paradise like Toledo Bend. If there is any sort of warming trend leading up to the event, Jason Christie will catch them. Put a spinnerbait or jig rod in his hand and he will find the fish. While Christie is one of the most feared names in bass fishing, Ben Milliken is a rookie in 2024. Don’t let this fool you however, as Milliken has had much success in his home state of Texas, including his Bassmaster Open win in 2023 on Toledo Bend qualifying him for he 2024 Bassmaster Classic.


Bucket C: Gerald Swindle or Clark Wendlandt

(Photos courtesy of Bassmaster)

According to bassmaster.com, Gerald Swindle has fished 5 Bassmaster events on Toledo Bend. Of those 5 events, his worst finish was 51st place and his best finish was 17th, and he has improved each time. He has also had great finishes on other fisheries in Texas like Fork, Sabine River, and Sam Rayburn which can fish like Toledo Bend. Swindle is also a great shallow water angler which can be beneficial to him especially if there are warm days leading up to an event. Similar to Swindle, Clark Wendlandt is also a shallow-water power fisherman. While he has no Bassmaster or MLF tournament history on Toledo Bend, he lives in Texas and has much experience with lots of lakes that fish similar to it. Just last year, he finished 2nd at Sabine River. Don’t be surprised if Wendlandt gets his revenge at one of the first two events as he is hungry for a win.


Bucket D: Keith Combs or Ray Hanselman

(Photos courtesy of Bassmaster)

When it comes to fishing in Texas, Keith Combs and Ray Hanselman are both forces to be reckoned with. While most of Combs’s success has been on Sam Rayburn Reservoir, he did have a 4th place finish at Toledo Bend in 2016. He is a crankbait fanatic, which could be a huge player at Toledo Bend as we have seen it be a winning factor in the last 2 Elite Series events held there. Texas native Ray Hanselman has also had many wins on Sam Rayburn Reservoir, along with wins on Amistad and Texoma. Don’t count these two anglers out at the first two Elite Series events of the year.


Bucket E: Buddy Gross or Wesley Gore

(Photos courtesy of Bassmaster)

With all the offshore areas that Toledo Bend has to offer, Buddy Gross could be one to bet on. After a rough season last year, he looks to rebound with a good start to the season. While most of his success has been in Florida and Tennessee River fisheries, the first two events could set up well for him. A lipless crankbait and a big swimbait, two lures that Gross is confident throwing, can be big players during the pre-spawn. Another offshore angler, Wesley Gore, could be very successful in his very first Elite Series event. While he is extremely skilled utilizing forward-facing sonar, he is also a very versatile angler growing up fishing in Alabama. Gore also had an 11th place finish in a Bassmaster Open event on Toledo Bend last year. Expect Wesley Gore to cover plenty of water and search for those giant bass that Toledo Bend is known for.

For the second Bassmaster Elite Series event of the season on Lake Fork, there are many anglers who could be successful this time around. With this being a different time of year than the Elites usually visit Lake Fork, don’t be surprised if new anglers who haven’t had success on Lake Fork put the pieces of the puzzle together based on their pre-spawn success at other lakes.

NOTE: At the time of writing this, we do not know which buckets the anglers are going to be put in, so we are listing 10 anglers in no particular order. We chose them based on their history at Lake Fork and other Texas fisheries, signature strengths that could play a role at Lake Fork, and recent success that can cause the momentum train to roll. We did this because Toledo Bend and Lake Fork are back-to-back events. Click here to check out our Toledo Bend picks.

Let’s dive into it!


Seth Feider

(Photo courtesy of Bassmaster)

The 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series AOY champ had a disappointing year last season finishing 55th place in the AOY standings, his worst finish since his rookie year in 2015. He will be looking to rebound in 2024, and the first 2 events at the beginning of the season could suit well for his strengths. It is also important to note that his last 4 finishes on Lake Fork are 25th, 6th, 11th, and 12th. These are all great finishes, which gives him a reason to do well in this event.


Greg Hackney

(Photo courtesy of Bassmaster)

When it comes to fishing in Texas, there is no doubt that Greg Hackney could be a huge player. He has fished two Bassmaster events on Lake Fork, finishing 38th and 13th. It is also important to note that Lake Fork is usually visited in the post-spawn when the bigger fish are usually offshore. He is also a shallow water fisherman which could be beneficial for him this time of year, especially if there is a warming trend. Expect him to do even better at Lake Fork this time around with the fish moving up to shallow areas getting ready to spawn soon. Of Hackney’s 65 Bassmaster top 10 finishes, 10 of them were in Texas. He has had more top 10s in Texas than any other state. Just know if you do decide to pick him, he will be one of the higher-percentage picks, so you won’t be the only one betting on him!


Chris Johnston

(Photo courtesy of Bassmaster)

When the last name Johnston is heard, it is usually seen on the leaderboard at northern fisheries. This is proven as 10 of his 18 Bassmaster top 10 finishes has been during the northern swing at the tail end of the season. However, 4 of his top 10 finishes have been in Texas, and 2 of them were on Lake Fork the last 2 times the Elite Series visited there in 2021 and 2022. Because of his recent success on the lake, it could be wise to pick Johnston this time around.


Lee Livesay

(Photo courtesy of Bassmaster)

It is no secret that Lee Livesay is the favorite to win this event. Why is this? Perhaps it is because he won the last 2 Elite Series events held on Fork. He has fished 4 Elite Series events on Lake Fork and has finished in the top 10 in 3 of them. If you pick someone else over Livesay, you might know something that other people don’t know!


Bryan New

(Photo courtesy of Bassmaster)

Bryan New didn’t have the start to the 2023 season that he wanted as it was a rough start to the first half. However, he had a solid second half of the season which caused him to almost qualify for the Bassmaster Classic being the third man out. Because momentum is a huge factor in tournament success, expect Bryan New to start out the 2024 season with a bang. His previous event on Lake Fork resulted in a 6th place finish, so he has had recent success on the lake. Bryan New is a junk fisherman which can either benefit him or hurt him, so it could be a gamble picking him. However, we are confident that New will have a much better start to the season than he had last year!


Brandon Palaniuk

(Photo courtesy of Bassmaster)

The 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series AOY champ had a less than average season last year for his standards even though he still qualified for the Classic. When it comes to fishing on Lake Fork, he has had great success there as his past finishes are 2nd, 14th, and 4th. He has also won an Elite Series event at Sam Rayburn Reservoir. Expect Palaniuk to continue his success in Texas and make another run at AOY this season.


Luke Palmer

(Photo courtesy of Bassmaster)

Luke Palmer had a stellar season in 2024 as he won an Elite Series event, finished 2nd in another, and had a 15th place AOY ranking. Palmer just finished up his 5th season as a professional angler, and he seems to be improving each year. He will tell you that he prefers shallow water techniques, and this event could set up well for him.


Matt Robertson

(Photo courtesy of Bassmaster)

Matt Robertson had a great season in 2024 finishing 11th in the AOY standings. He has the momentum train rolling as his last 2 events of 2023 were a 12th and a 10th place finish. He finished in 17th place at Lake Fork in 2022 and 40th place at Lake Fork in 2021. When it comes to Matt Robertson’s strengths, he loves throwing a big swimbait and fishing offshore, which can both play a role this time of year for pre-spawn bass.


Patrick Walters

(Photo courtesy of Bassmaster)

Patrick Walters has all the reasons going for him as to why he should be one of the top picks for the first two events, especially on Fork. He had a great season last year finishing 3rd in the AOY standings, he is fresh off a win and a 7th place finish in the last two events of last season, and he has a 1st and a 2nd place finish out of the 4 Elite tournaments he has competed in on Lake Fork.


Chris Zaldain

(Photo courtesy of Bassmaster)

Big swimbaits could always be a key player at Texas fisheries, and there is no doubt that Chris Zaldain is confident throwing them. While he was previously from California, Zaldain now lives in Texas. He has fished 4 Elite Series events on Lake Fork and his finishes were 40th, 5th, 13th, and 13th. While he did not have the season he wanted in 2023, he has some momentum rolling as his last 2 events last season resulted in solid 13th and 28th place finishes.

The cold weather is here, and as dedicated anglers, we know that nothing can stop us from chasing those elusive bass, not even a winter chill. While towing your bass boat in cold weather requires a bit of finesse and preparation to ensure a smooth and successful fishing expedition, given the proper preparation it is definitely something you can accomplish safely. So bundle up and let’s dive into some cold weather towing tips that will keep you and your bass boat cruising through the frosty days without a hitch.

Inspect and Reflect:

Before hitting the road, give your bass boat and trailer a thorough inspection. Cold weather can be tough on equipment, so make sure all lights are working, and reflective tape is intact. You don’t want to be the shadowy figure cruising down the icy roads – safety first!

Mind Your Tire Game:

Tires are your boat’s best friends on the road, especially in cold weather. Check the tire pressure to ensure optimal performance. Cold temperatures can cause pressure drops, so keep them inflated to the recommended levels.  It also might be a good idea to carry a portable air compressor in your vehicle in case you need to add a little air along the way.

Grease Up Those Bearings:

Cold weather and unlubricated bearings don’t mix well. Before you embark on your winter fishing escapade, make sure to grease up those bearings. It’s the winter spa day your trailer deserves and is an easy way to prevent larger issues with your wheel and hub assembly.  For sealed hub assemblies it is also a good idea to perform a visual inspection to check for any leaks or issues as well.

Break Out the De-Icer:

No one likes surprises, especially when it comes to frozen locks. Prevent a chilly conundrum by applying de-icer to your trailer locks, lid handles and boat cover ratchet straps. A little squirt can save you from an icy headache.

Pack the Essentials:

In cold weather, unexpected delays can happen. Pack a winter survival kit that includes blankets, extra warm clothing, snacks, and a thermos of hot coffee or cocoa. Road flares or flashers can also come in handy if you are stranded on the side of the road in adverse conditions.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race:

Winter roads can be unpredictable, so take it slow. Braking distances are longer on icy roads, and sudden movements can spell trouble. Give yourself plenty of space and time to react – your bass boat will thank you.

Mind the Freezing Water:

If you’re towing your boat on frigid days, make sure there’s no water left in the boat’s livewell or any other compartments. Frozen water can cause damage to your boat, and we’re all about keeping that baby in top-notch condition.  It is also always good practice to lower the motor after pulling out of the water to let excess water drain. Give it a few minutes while you are securing the boat and trailer for travel. This will help to decrease the risk of that water freezing in your lower unit while towing . Be sure to raise it back up after draining before towing.

Stay Weather-Wise:

Keep an eye on the weather forecast. Sometimes Mother Nature can throw curveballs, and it’s better to be prepared. Knowing the road conditions and potential storms will help you plan your journey more effectively.

Anticipate the Thaw:

When you arrive at your fishing spot, remember that your boat might be covered in frost. Bring along a towel or two to wipe down any accumulated ice. Nobody wants a slippery surprise when launching the boat.  Carrying a 5 gallon bucket filled with a mix of Kitty Litter and sand for the times that the ramp is frozen can pay huge dividends.  Giving your truck and trailer that extra little bit of traction can make a world of difference in icy conditions.

Towing your bass boat in cold weather may present its challenges, but with these tips in your arsenal, you’ll be well-equipped to face the frosty roads ahead. Remember, a prepared angler is a successful angler, even when temperatures take a dip. So, bundle up, and hit the road with these tips in mind and stay safe!

There is no doubt that the topic of forward-facing sonar has flooded the industry. It is definitely a tool that can help eliminate water, locate fish, and allow the angler to observe fish behavior. However, many people assume that having this tool will guarantee an angler to catch fish if they purchase it. The truth is that it’s not that easy, but it does increase an angler’s chances. To prevent frustration from happening when a fish follows your bait all the way to the boat and doesn’t eat it, here are some tips that will help you.

Time Management and Forward-Facing Sonar

Scoping can be a love hate relationship. It is easy to waste a full day and not have much to show for if you aren’t careful. One of the best pieces of advice we can give to a fellow angler about Forward-Facing sonar, is not to spend too much time on a single fish or group of fish. If the fish doesn’t bite within the first few presentations move on. Normally a fish is going to bite right out of the gate if it’s going to bite. Another great thing that Forward Facing Sonar can do is save you a bunch of time. If you pull up on a spot and don’t see them move on. Don’t waste a lot of time in an area where you don’t see life.

Cold Water Lure Presentation

Fish tend to suspend in the winter, which is why lures like suspending jerk baits and Alabama rigs work well. Fish swim upward most of the time to eat these lures. When looking at forward-facing sonar, groups of fish will often sneakily stalk pods of baitfish from underneath. Because of this, it can be important to keep your lure above the fish during the winter. As avid anglers we have seen fish swim from 20 ft or more below the lure come up and eat. At times it can be beneficial to speed up your retrieve when a fish is following your lure to make it look like it is trying to escape from the fish.

Look for fish higher in the water column

Sometimes fish that are higher in the water column can get overlooked and, in some instances, be easier to catch. A lot of times a fish that are higher in the water column, or just below the surface are either actively feeding or on the hunt for something to eat. This then makes your lure a prime target for them. In a lot of instances, it is a lot easier to present your lure to these fish as well. Something to keep in mind though is not to be closed-minded on the equipment you choose to use. Innovation is coming so keep your eyes open for jig heads or lures that mimic what baitfish or the prey you are trying to mimic but are heavier in weight. There are several companies that make walleye jig heads that weigh 1oz or even greater, who says you can’t use a walleye jig head to catch a bass on, this is just one lure or option for something that will help you present you bait in a faster more efficient way. A heavier lure not only can be something to keep in mind for those deeper fish but that can be very effective on high ones as well. A heavier lure or head allows you to fish the bait faster and can potentially then give you a reaction when something slow might not. Where sometimes the slower falling applications can just be to slow or maybe it gives them too good of a look. This can also work in the exact opposite direction as well.

If you don’t see your lure, reel it back in

When looking at fish with forward-facing sonar, always remember that you want to be able to see your lure while keeping the transducer pointed toward the fish. If you can see the fish clearly but you can’t see your lure at all, chances are your lure isn’t where it needs to be. Always keep the transducer pointed toward the fish and keep casting toward them until you can see your lure. It takes practice, but if you can learn to cast exactly in the beam of the sonar several times in a row then you will maximize your fishing time and bite efficiency.

Top lures for forward-facing sonar in the winter

Damiki Rig/Hover Rig

(Photo Courtesy of Bass Resource)

A Damiki rig has been popular for several years now and has gained popularity recently with the topic of forward-facing sonar. The hover rig is a new technique used as a more finesse approach for fish seen on forward-facing sonar. Pair these lures tend to be better paired on a spinning rod with 12lb-20lb braid with a 6lb-12lb fluorocarbon leader. A common way to use each of these lures is to cast it 10-20 feet past a fish and swim it over the top of them while slightly twitching your rod tip. A damiki rig can also be very effective fishing vertical over fish as well. When using this application, you will want to find the size of head that fits the depth of water you are fishing the best. When you find the fish, you want to drop your lure to the fish until you notice they start to react to it. At that point it’s about figuring out how they want the bait that day sometimes they want it hopped up and down, other times they want you to just lift it away from them slowly. You will just have to figure out what they want that day.

Swimbait/Alabama rig

An Alabama rig is one of the most popular lures when the water cools off. Some state rules and regulations and some tournament regulations only allow a certain number of hooks or may prohibit them, so always remember to be aware of those. An underspin or single swimbait is a great alternative to an Alabama rig if your state or tournament does not allow it. An Alabama rig can be used on braided line (50-60 pound recommended) or fluorocarbon/monofilament (20-25 pound recommended) on a baitcasting setup. A single swimbait or underspin can be paired on a spinning or baitcasting rod, usually tied to 8lb-16lb test. Simply cast these lures past the fish and keep a slow and steady reel retrieve keeping it above the fish. When using an Alabama rig, occasional twitches of the rod tip or reel handle can trigger a bite.

Jerkbait

Jerkbaits are a great lure to trigger fish in colder water conditions. Some may ask how to select which jerkbait to choose, forward facing sonar makes it easier to make that decision than ever before. You can now instantly see the depth at which the fish are at that day and then make your decision based on that. Jerkbait fishing is traditionally a slower retrieve, but still has an erratic look to it. Simply cast the lure past the fish using a “twitch, twitch, pause method”. Pair this lure on a baitcasting setup with 10lb-14lb fluorocarbon or monofilament. Something that you need to keep in mind is what your bait is doing. Traditionally you want your jerkbait to be sinking just a little bit. A lot of jerk baits need to be adjusted out of the box. The best thing you can do is either keep a spool of lead wire or lead suspending strips in your boat. If your jerkbait is floating add either some lead wire (to the front hook) or pieces of suspend strip to the front portion of the bait, traditionally between the first and second hook.

Spoon/Ice Jig

An ice jig and jigging spoon are great lures that can trigger a reaction bite in deep schools of bass. The benefit of having a heavier lure such as these is the rate of fall. This will allow your lure to get to fish that are deeper a lot faster. These two baits traditionally are fished with a lifting or hoping action. When you jig the lure up and down you want to make sure that you allow the lure to fall back to the level that the fish are setting. These lures pair great on baitcasting setups with 12lb-16lb fluorocarbon line.

With high school and college fishing growing rapidly, there is no doubt that the competition is getting tougher and tougher. Young anglers are qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series now more than ever. We performed a study of the average age of Elite Series qualifiers from the last 15 years, and the trend we found shows that 2023 was a record year for Elite Series qualifiers.

Many have said this trend is a result of the popularity of forward-facing sonar, record-breaking numbers of competitors in college and high school tournaments, and the increasing of live coverage in professional tournaments like on FOX Sports platforms. Sure, lots of household names are losing to these young anglers, but young anglers succeeding on the Elite Series means that there is a long future for this sport.

Not only are younger anglers qualifying for the Elite Series, they are also succeeding and staying consistent. Anglers like Joey Cifuentes III, Kyoya Fujita, and Jay Przekurat are still new to the Elites, but they have proven that they can compete with the veterans as they have already won blue trophies and finished in the top 10 of the Angler of the Year race. Anglers such as Drew Cook, Patrick Walters, and Kyle Welcher have also been successful over the last few years, and all 3 of them are around 30 years old. Not to mention they have all won either a blue trophy or AOY trophy already. Looking at the trend below, it is obvious that the ages of AOY contenders have been on an overall downward trend over the years.

As mentioned, lots of young anglers are winning blue trophies, and the trend below shows that. From 2022 to 2023, the average age of Elite Series champs dropped 7 years which was the biggest change from one year to the next.

High school and college anglers may see these stats and think, “It’s my time to go pro!” However, winning high school and college tournaments is not an automatic guarantee that you will make it to the pro level. In fact, we found that the odds of making it from the Bassmaster Opens to the Bassmaster Elite Series are only about 1.7%. Check out the full blog on the odds of making it to the pro level here. So, you might be a young angler asking, “How do I make it to the pro level?”

The answers to this question cannot always be answered as easily as one might hope, but there are some things that a young angler shouldn’t do. In a recent video, Basssmaster Elite Series and Sunline pro Gerald Swindle gives 3 of the biggest mistakes that he sees young anglers make. Those 3 mistakes are: (1) they try to advance to the pro level too fast, (2) they focus more on getting sponsorships rather than catching fish, and (3) they are too scared to lose.

Elite Series pro Cole Sands also has some insight because of his success in the college ranks and just finished up his rookie year with a Bassmaster Classic qualification. Sands says, “The biggest mistake I see a lot of young anglers make is that they get caught up with catching fish every time they go out instead of learning every time they go fishing”. He adds, “I know high school and college anglers that will go out and beat on the same group of fish for a month straight. Whereas the angler that goes out trying to find a new spot or dial in a new technique every time they go will be better in the long run”.

So, what are some things that a young angler can do to increase his or her chances of making it to the pro level? Here are a few things that can be done based on the comments from Sands and Swindle.

  1. Know that there is always room for improvement—Just as Gerald Swindle says, many young anglers try to advance too fast. Don’t skip steps just to rush the process of making it to the pro level. Fishing in high school and college can be a great learning experience for an angler because the competition is fierce, and the lakes are often the same lakes visited on the professional level.
  2. Focus more on catching fish rather than gaining sponsorships—Most high school and college teams have their own team sponsorships, but many young anglers seem to want their own personal sponsorship. Focus more on supporting the brands that already support you and catch fish in the meantime! For college anglers, discounts and incentives can be found through this link.
  3. Don’t be scared to do what it takes to win—Winning starts with putting in as much time on the water as possible. Fishing has been known to be a mental game, and gaining confidence in new techniques and new areas can often be the biggest factor in winning. As Cole Sands says, this might mean taking a break from fishing for the same group of fish. Sure it can be hard to leave when you know the fish are there, but trying new locations rather than forcing the same group of fish to bite when they have already seen several different lures can make a big difference.

The Bassmaster Opens have quickly become one of the most competitive tournament trails in the country.  A record number of anglers signed up to compete in all nine of the 2023 Opens, and with the 2024 schedule featuring stops at some of the top lakes in the U.S., it’s likely to become an even more hotly contested playing field for aspiring Elite Series anglers.

Bass Talk Live host Matt Pangrac is currently finishing up his third year of fishing a full Bassmaster Open schedule, and has learned some important lessons along the way that he thinks can help anglers looking to make the jump in 2024.

“Fishing a full Bassmaster Open schedule gives you a true taste of what it is like to travel all across the country to compete on different fisheries.  The schedule is similar to what you would experience if you qualified for the Bassmaster Elite Series, so it is a great learning opportunity.  Over the past few years I’ve learned several things that I wish I knew when I started this journey.  Hopefully learning from some of my mistakes can help you succeed in 2024,” said Pangrac.

Pangrac’s Five Tips For Opens Success

  1. Take care of your housing before the year starts. One of the most stressful things is not having a place to stay and depending on where the tournament is places fill up fast. Figure out who you’re rooming with and reserve your housing ASAP so you don’t have to worry about it and can focus on fishing.
  2. Create a budget with every expense that you think you’ll incur for each tournamentHaving an expectation of the amount of money you will spend will help keep you from being stressed out. I also always add a cushion for  additional expenses, such as baits and tackle that you might need for a specific stop.  
  3. Identify an area of the lake or river where you can fish your strengths. It’s hard enough to compete at this level doing what you’re good at, let alone something that you are not familiar with. One of the biggest mistakes I personally have made numerous times is trying to see an entire fishery with limited practice time. I’ve had my best tournaments when I concentrated on a small area and fished within my comfort zone.
  4. Realize that you are not fishing against the other competitors. You’re fishing against yourself. Your goal is to come in with five fish every day. Don’t worry about what other people are catching. Just figure out how you can catch the five biggest fish. If you can do that the results will take care of themselves.
  5. Understand that it’s a process. Even those who experience success immediately realize that even the best professional anglers win less than 10% of the events they compete in. Set achievable goals for yourself and don’t set your expectations too high. This is a process and each year is just one step in the process, you can‘t accomplish everything all at once.

Registration for the 2024 Bassmaster Opens will open November 7, beginning with B.A.S.S. Life and Nation anglers who want to participate in the Opens EQ Division.

For more information, visit Bassmaster.com/Opens.

After fishing the Bassmaster Open on the St. Lawrence River out of Waddington, New York, Matt Pangrac realized that fishing a swift current river connected to a Great Lake is a totally different ball game than fishing any other body of water in the country. Matt spent several days practicing and competing, and even though he cashed a check and finished in 23rd place, he realized that he was inadequately prepared to handle the big water.  Here are some of the key things that Matt wished he had known before he headed North:

QUALITY FOOTWEAR (NOT FLIP FLOPS) 

I’ve always worn flip flops in the boat, but in rough water flip flops don’t provide enough support and my feet were sliding around in the flip flops and my footing was unstable. I switched to a light, waterproof hiking shoe and the difference was incredible when it came to stability and comfort in the big waves.

 

PROPER MAPPING 

Everything is bigger on the Great Lakes and trying to find on Lake Ontario without the best available contour lines was literally like searching for a needle in a haystack. I didn’t even realize that I had bad mapping until a fellow competitor showed me his mapping during pre-practice. I immediately ordered a chip that covered both the United States and Canada and the difference was incredible.

 

BUG SPRAY 

Between the mosquitos and biting flies, I nearly went insane swatting at my ankles and legs until I stopped by the convenience store and purchased some insect repellent.  In the middle of open water, the fish slime attracts a crazy number of flies.

 

WIND APP ON YOUR PHONE 

Wind direction and speed is critical when it comes to fishing big water for both fishing as safety. I found that the wind direction and speed from basic predictions was unreliable, and I got caught miles offshore when the wind switched direction and started blowing. Downloading the Windy App on my iPhone really helped me decide where and when I could run the big lake.

 

LET SOMEONE KNOW WHERE YOU’RE GOING THAT DAY 

The further you go into Lake Ontario, the less cell service you have. I’m used to fishing bodies of water where there are docks, marinas, and other signs of human life. When you’re fishing alone 20 miles offshore, it can be a lonely feeling. After getting stuck in 6+ foot waves one day in practice, I started telling at least one fellow competitor the general area that I was planning on fishing that day just in case something happened they would know where to start the search.

 

BRING MORE THAN YOU THINK YOU’LL NEED 

When it comes to smallmouth fishing up North, it’s hard to beat the basics like a dropshot or Ned rig. I practiced for several days prior to the start of the tournament, so I was on the water a lot when it was all said and done. I thought that I brought enough dropshot weights and baits, but five days in I realized that I had to start rationing if I was going to make it through the tournament without running out. I had roughly 50 of the correct sized dropshot weights when I arrived, and I finished the tournament with just three.

 

RESEARCH WHERE THE RAMPS ARE 

There is no such thing as a “short run” on the St.Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. There are all sorts of both public and private boat ramps scattered throughout the area and after burning through a full tank of gas each of the first three days of practice, I started trailering to ramps closer to areas that I planned on exploring. That allowed me to idle more and fish longer without worrying about fuel and it also allowed me to fish areas during windy days without putting myself or my equipment in jeopardy.

Paths to Become a Pro Angler

At some point, every youth, high school, and college angler dreams of becoming a professional angler. Anyone can decide to fish in high school and college if he or she is enrolled and has the minimum GPA requirement to be eligible. If you are a high school student and your school does not have a fishing team, read here for some suggestions on how to start one. Competing in high school tournaments will prepare you for college fishing, and it will also help build your resume if you want to get a fishing scholarship somewhere. Competing in college tournaments will prepare you for competing at the semi-pro and even the pro level if you choose to do that. There are 3 different tournament organizations of professional bass fishing: Bassmaster, Major League Fishing, and the National Professional Fishing League. Bassmaster and Major League Fishing (MLF) have different levels of tournaments that offer paths to become a professional angler, while the National Professional Fishing League (NPFL) is a fairly new professional tournament trail that launched in March of 2021 and has no qualifying trails to compete on the trail. The first few seasons allowed anglers to submit resumes for consideration to compete, and if accepted competitors paid a $31,200 entry fee for six tournaments.

Stepping into Semi-Pro

Obviously, semi-pro level events are not cheap to enter. Sponsors do play a huge role in paying the pro-level anglers’ expenses, but how do you get to that level? Tournament expenses are a big deal along with the tough competition, but high school and college fishing can be the steps to prepare for the competition and compete for a chance to make it to the next level without paying a ton of money in entry fees. There are two paths to making it to the next level through college fishing: Strike King Bassmaster College Series and MLF Abu Garcia College Fishing. The Bassmaster College Series gives anglers a chance to compete for a spot in the legendary Bassmaster Classic. The top 3 anglers from the Bassmaster College Series National Championship along with the Team of the Year compete in a head-to-head bracket style competition. The winner advances to the Bassmaster Classic and has his or her entry fees paid to compete in all the Bassmaster Opens for the following year. As an alternate route, MLF Abu Garcia College Fishing gives college anglers a chance to qualify for the Toyota Series Championship, with the top boater prize being $235,000, including a Phoenix Boat valued at $35,000, and the top co-angler prize being a Phoenix Boat. Both anglers of the top two teams at the College Fishing National Championship receive qualifications for the Toyota Series Championship as boaters, and both anglers of the third-place team receive qualifications as co-anglers. In addition, the highest-finishing member of the winning team from the College Fishing National Championship at the Toyota Series Championship advances to REDCREST.

The Big Leap: Semi-Pro to Pro

There are 3 paths to making it to the professional level as a bass fisherman. It’s not an easy route, but it’s possible. Check out the odds here.

Path 1: Bassmaster

The Bassmaster Elite Series has existed since 2006, and it has been the standard for professional fishing tournaments since then. Only 9 anglers from the Bassmaster Opens advance to the Elite Series each year through what’s called the “Elite Qualifier (EQ)” standings. The EQ format is new for 2023, which requires anglers to compete in all 9 Bassmaster Opens to qualify for the Elite Series. The entry fees are $1800 per tournament for boaters, and $475 for co-anglers. While there is no professional level for co-anglers, fishing in the back of the boat can be a great learning experience for an angler who wants to fish professionally in the future but needs to know more about what it’s like. The competition is fierce in the Bassmaster Opens, and one bad day can ruin your chances of making it to the Elite Series for that year. The top boater in an Open event receives $46,667 based on 200 contenders, and also, if he or she were to enter all tournaments in that division, a qualification in the prestigious Bassmaster Classic.

Path 2: Major League Fishing

A great way for an angler to work his or her way up the ladder is to start out competing in MLF Phoenix Bass Fishing League tournaments. Through this route, an angler can enter a division as a boater or co-angler and fish lakes close to home, qualify for the Regional Championship, qualify for the BFL All-American, then qualify for the Toyota Series Championship. The top boater from the Regional Championship receives $10,000 plus a Phoenix 819 Pro valued at $50,000, and the top co-angler receives a Phoenix 819 Pro. The top six boaters and co-anglers from each Regional Championship advance to the BFL All-American for a chance to win $120,000 for a boater and a Phoenix 819 Pro valued at $50,000 for a co-angler. The top finishing boater and co-angler from each Regional Championship at the BFL All-American qualifies for the Toyota Series Championship for a chance to win $235,000 for a boater and $35,000 for a co-angler.

While the Bassmaster Elite Series and Tackle Warehouse Invitationals (formerly known as FLW Tour) have existed for years, the Bass Pro Tour is currently in its fifth season. To qualify for the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, an angler must place in the top 5 in his or her division standings through the Toyota Series. If an angler is already qualified for the Invitationals, they will keep working down the list until the spots are filled. To qualify for the Bass Pro Tour, an angler must place in the top 10 of the Invitationals Angler of the Year standings.

Path 3: National Professional Fishing League (NPFL)

As mentioned before, this is a fairly new professional tournament trail that is in its third season, and there are no qualifications that are needed to compete in this trail, nor are there any advancement opportunities for higher levels through this trail. So how do you enter? Well, it was a first-come first-serve basis when they started accepting applications for 2021 and it costs $31,200 to enter. The first-place prize money is $100,000 per tournament. Applications must be submitted to be considered for entry.

Semi-Pro Earnings

The difference between semi-pro fishing versus other sports is there is no guarantee that someone can make money in fishing tournaments, while most other sports are salary-based. Entry fees are close to $2,000 for a semi-pro level fishing tournament, and an angler must place well to earn his entry fee back. Below are the top 10 earnings from the 2022 Bassmaster Opens and the 2022 Major League Fishing Toyota Series, both considered semi-professional trails. Relating these earnings to a sport like Minor League Baseball, they look very similar. Minor League Baseball salaries can range anywhere from $19,910 to $187,200.

Bassmaster Opens Angler Earnings 2022

Keith Poche: $97,152

Kenta Kimura: $96,803

Cooper Gallant: $82,799

Tristan McCormick: $60,237

Brandon Lester: $56,217

JT Thompkins: $55,270

Lee Livesay: $52,500

Casey Smith: $52,300

Keith Combs: $47,317

David Gaston: $46,881

Toyota Series Angler Earnings 2022

Kyle Hall: $267,925

Jeff Reynolds: $94,130

Bryan Labelle: $87,000

Kent Ware: $82,200

Jonathan Semento: $80,500

Jack Daniel Williams: $76,953

Hayden Heck: $75,300

Robert Branagh: $68,530

Marshall Robinson: $67,850

Matt Stanley: $66,850

Being in front of a camera can be extremely intimidating. For some of us it can be a disconcerting experience, but one that in today’s world of almost instant social media posts and media coverage you need to become proficient at as a tournament angler. Whether you are asked by a photographer to snap a few stills of your catch, or for a brief interview on camera, there a few things you need to remember in order to get the most out of the opportunity.

Treating each of these requests as an opportunity and not an obligation is the first piece of advice that anglers on every level need to adopt. Whether you’ve had a great day on the water or one you would rather forget, if you turn down the opportunity for any media exposure you are missing out. When you get these opportunities it is important that you are prepared to take advantage of them.

We caught up with legendary Bassmaster photographer James Overstreet to get his take on how to make the most of your stage time, whether you are fishing at the highest level or aspiring to get there. Overstreet has seen countless anglers cross the B.A.S.S. stages over the years and offers some sage advice on what you should do to stand out from the crowds. We’ve listed some of his standouts below.

  • Project a good, authentic image for your sponsors (current or potential), your family, and the organization your are competing with.
  • Show respect and acknowledge the weigh-in crowd no matter how large or small
  • If you are asked to hold up fish always do so. Never turn down an opportunity to get a photo taken that might be posted online or in a publication
  • When you are holding your fish up for photographs, make sure you are holding them far enough apart and high enough to give good exposure to the front of your jersey, as well as your face.
  • Engage with the emcee if you get the opportunity while onstage, but don’t get too long-winded. “Nobody wants to hear you read War and Peace up there on stage, man.” – James Overstreet
  • When you are holding your fish, make sure you take your time and turn so you hit all three angles (left, center, right) stage to make sure all the photographers have an opportunity to get a good image. However, make it a priority to give center stage the most attention because that is where the main photographers and media will be seated.

Covering professional fishing  tournaments for well over a decade has also given me a unique opportunity to form some opinions on do’s and don’ts as it pertains to stage time.

  • Do smile, or at least attempt to look pleasant while holding up your fish or posing with a check or trophy.
  • Don’t put your sunglasses on your hat covering up a sponsor logo. Either wear them, or put them in your pocket until you get off stage.
  • Do thank your sponsors, but don’t literally look down and read them all off of your jersey.
  • Don’t say you broke off fish if you have a line sponsor. It happens to all of us no matter what line you use, but makes no sense to mention on stage as the reason why you didn’t have a mega bag. Trust me, the line companies are paying attention!
  • Do plug your social media accounts if you get the opportunity. Keep it short and sweet but organic followers are a big deal in today’s marketing climate.
  • Don’t speak poorly of the host fishery if you’ve had a bad day on the water.

While all of these are simply opinions from industry professionals they are solid rules of thumb to keep in mind the next time you get a chance to be in front of a camera at a tournament. Hopefully they help you to better take advantage of your opportunities in front of the camera!

– Dave Rush

Hooky The Bookie: Santee Cooper

The Fantasy Fishing season has kicked off on both major tours and players are always looking for inside information to set their rosters. Best On Tour has tapped one of the original odds makers in the sport of professional bass fishing, Mark Jeffreys, to offer up fantasy fishing odds to help you set your teams. Stay tuned for the inside scoop from “Hooky The Bookie” for future tournaments!

2023 AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes Odds:

Angler Name Group Odds
Brandon Card A 6-1
Brandon Cobb A 2-1
Drew Cook A 5-1
Will Davis Jr. A 7-1
Carl Jocumsen A 7-1
Lee Livesay A 7-1
Tyler Rivet A 8-1
Kyle Welcher A 6-1
Clark Wendlandt A 7-1
Greg Hackney A 3-1
Mike Iaconelli A 5-1
Shane LeHew A 8-1
Pat Schlapper A 9-1
John Cox A 4-1
Patrick Walters A 2-1
Cody Huff A 8-1
Brock Mosley A 9-1
Bernie Schultz A 10-1
Matt Arey A 7-1
Drew Benton A 7-1
Kyoya Fujita A 10-1
Joey Cifuentes III B 10-1
Cooper Gallant B 10-1
Gerald Swindle B 12-1
Derek Hudnall B 9-1
Chris Johnston B 9-1
Scott Canterbury B 7-1
Jay Przekurat B 9-1
Keith Combs B 4-1
Stetson Blaylock B 8-1
David Gaston B 8-1
Jonathan Kelley B 12-1
Luke Palmer B 10-1
Bryan Schmitt B 11-1
Steve Kennedy B 4-1
Scott Martin B 7-1
Bryant Smith B 10-1
Austin Felix B 7-1
Kenta Kimura B 8-1
Hunter Shryock B 8-1
Brandon Lester B 7-1
Jason Williamson B 6-1
Bill Lowen C 6-1
Brad Whatley C 9-1
Micah Frazier C 8-1
Jeff Gustafson C 8-1
Bob Downey C 9-1
David Fritts C 18-1
Darold Gleason C 10-1
Mark Menendez C 10-1
Marc Frazier C 8-1
Jake Whitaker C 6-1
John Crews C 7-1
Ray Hanselman C 10-1
Jamie Hartman C 10-1
Wes Logan C 9-1
Clifford Pirch C 9-1
Cory Johnston C 8-1
Brandon Palaniuk C 6-1
Seth Feider C 8-1
Jacob Powroznik C 7-1
Matt Robertson C 10-1
Joseph Webster C 10-1
Cliff Prince D 11-1
Logan Latuso D 9-1
Ed Loughran III D 9-1
Buddy Gross D 6-1
Bradley Hallman D 5-1
Skylar Hamilton D 8-1
Hank Cherry D 5-1
KJ Queen D 8-1
Caleb Kuphall D 9-1
Greg DiPalma D 9-1
Chris Zaldain D 12-1
Justin Atkins D 6-1
Justin Hamner D 7-1
Jason Christie D 5-1
Taku Ito D 8-1
Caleb Sumrall D 8-1
David Mullins D 8-1
Todd Auten D 6-1
Jacob Foutz D 8-1
Masayuki Matsushita D 10-1
Matty Wong D 10-1
Gary Clouse E 15-1
Rick Clunn E 12-1
Josh Douglas E 15-1
Matt Herren E 8-1
Cole Sands E 12-1
Josh Stracner E 14-1
Bryan New E 7-1
Kyle Norsetter E 11-1
Alex Redwine E 14-1
David Williams E 15-1
Clent Davis E 10-1
Mike Huff E 12-1
Koby Kreiger E 10-1
Paul Mueller E 12-1
Larry Nixon E 15-1
Chad Pipkens E 14-1
Keith Poche E 7-1
John Soukup E 10-1
Frank Talley E 12-1
Alex Wetherell E 15-1

How Do Betting Odds Work?

Betting odds represent the probability of an event occurring and are typically displayed as a ratio or a fraction. The odds indicate how much money a bettor would hypothetically win based on their wager.

For example, if the odds for a particular angler are 2:1, it means that for every dollar a bettor wagers, they will win two dollars if that angler wins the tournament. In other words, if you bet $10 on an angler with 2:1 odds and win, you would receive $20 in winnings plus your original $10 bet back.

In general, the “higher” the odds, the lower the probability of that outcome occurring. So an angler with 2:1 odds is considered more likely to win a tournament than one with 10:1 odds.

The betting odds presented on this website are for entertainment and informational purposes only. We do not accept bets on this platform nor do we promote illegal gambling activities. It is important to gamble responsibly and within the legal guidelines of your jurisdiction.