The Elites might know of the fisheries, but the revised schedule due to the coronavirus has them boldly going when few have gone before.
The pandemic forced B.A.S.S. to move three events to the fall, when many in the 88-man field have never competed on those bodies of water. Yet all look forward to exploring the new worlds.
“One thing that makes the unknown kind of cool, I feel like it gives everybody a fresh look,” Stetson Blaylock said. “2019 was a fresh look, a very fresh look for all of us, on the Bassmaster Elite Series.
“It’s not about getting back in the grind or routine. This kind of throws that all out the window. Now it’s going to be another new experience. It just keeps everything interesting and fun.”
The pros are amped to return to competition, as the national lockdown to prevent COVID-19 spread has kept them out a full four months. It will be 121 days from the final day at St. Johns Elite to the first day of the DEWALT Bassmaster Elite at Lake Eufaula, June 10-13. The revisions made by B.A.S.S. send the field into some unknowns.
“It’s all in perspective of what we’re faced with this year,” Blaylock said. “I think new bodies of water are always exciting. But it’s kind of like not knowing your schedule even when your season’s already started. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing; I’m just saying it changes the way you prepare, changes the things you do, your mindset.”
B.A.S.S. worked closely with local hosts in shuffling the dates, placing two events in October and one in early November. It will be the latest in the year the Elites Series has competed. The most recent top circuit Bassmaster event held in November was the Louisiana Tour on the Red River in 2001.
Personally, Blaylock said he would have liked an earlier end to the season, but he understands the efforts to work in all nine events while also resetting the Opens schedule.
“That’s for everybody. All of us, our sponsors, our fans, we have to look at it in the big picture,” he said. “My take is I’m just glad we’re fishing a full season.”
Anglers were anticipating the original schedule that promised big fish and the possibility of topping 100 pounds at almost half the venues. Tournaments on Lake Chickamauga, Santee Cooper Lakes and Texas’ famed Lake Fork were postponed from the big bag potential of spring to when things get tough in the South.
Second-year Elite Patrick Walters ain’t scared, even though, like most of the field, he’s never competed in a major tournament in autumn.
“I love tough tournaments,” Walters said. “I love when you’re getting seven bites a day. I do love slugfests, but I always love finding sneaky little hidden patterns. In tough tournaments, it gets you a bite and limits.”
Walters offered a highly illogical statement, but his explanation speaks to the competitive nature of the field.
“I hate them, and I love them,” he said of stingier events. “When you’re fishing and it’s 2 o’clock and you have two fish, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do?’ You’re hating that moment in time. There’s sweat running down your brow and you’re just like, ‘Man, it’s time to buckle it up.’ This is what we fish for.”
Like Walters, Brandon Palaniuk, the 2017 Bassmaster Angler of the Year and winner of three Elite events, hasn’t fished much past September, yet he also relishes unlocking new challenges. He sees great possibilities to rise in the fall.