The new Elite season comes with renewed hopes for the anglers. For fans, there’s tremendous wonder of what’s going to go down, of who will figure out which fishery and walk away with hardware.
In that vein, the Daily Limit asked the Bassmaster TV crew to do some prognosticating. What follows are some of their predictions for the 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series.
“We will hit a double of sorts this year: A win by a former Angler of the Year and a win by a former Rookie of the Year,” show host Tommy Sanders said. “And we will have an international winner for the third year in a row.”
Those are each small contingents, with eight previous AOY and ROY winners in the field and seven not born on U.S. soil. Last year, Canadian Chris Johnston won at the St. Lawrence River and rode a trophy over the border for the first time. That came less than a year after Carl Jocumsen won at Tenkiller to add Australia as the third country to boast an Elite winner, after the U.S. and Japan.
The season starts Feb. 11 with the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River then hits the Tennessee River at the end of the month. A flipflop with the Classic puts Lake Pickwick as the sole March tournament. April sends the Elites to Texas for the Sabine River and Lake Fork before back to Alabama for Neely Henry and Guntersville for May events. After the Classic, it’s July fishing up north on Lake Champlain and the finale at the St. Lawrence River.
Tournament emcee Dave Mercer can’t wait to get things rolling, and he predicts big things at weigh-ins. Last year, social distancing due to COVID-19 hampered the festive atmosphere at Elite venues. Mercer said he thinks fans will be hungry, so goes his call for “the return of the incredible, record-breaking Bassmaster crowds that we all love and miss so much. The Bassmaster fans built this sport, and we all can’t wait to hear you all again soon.”
Clark Wendlandt felt the roar at Fork when he clinched the 2020 AOY by a narrow margin. It followed Scott Canterbury’s close win the year before. They and the field, now up to 101 from 88, will see new stout competition that includes former FLW stalwarts Scott Martin and Justin Atkins, as well as returning Elites Greg Hackney and Jason Christie.
Analyst Mark Zona sees some great duels and familiar faces hoisting the prestigious blue trophies.
“I think it will be a year dominated by shallow water — except for the northern events,” Zona said. “I’m looking at Clark, Canterbury, Hackney and Christie to dominate ... again.”
Hackney, requalifying through the Opens after a stint at MLF, returns with six B.A.S.S. victories and $2.4 million in earnings, second among active anglers to Rick Clunn. Hackney is also among the 25 AOY winners in 51 years of Bassmaster competition, and he could be there at the end of 2021.
“We’ve had good AOY races the last two years,” former AOY and Classic champ turned analyst Davy Hite said. “With an incredibly talented group of Open anglers who qualified this year, this season could be one of our most interesting AOY races in a long time, back and forth and multiple leaders. I think one or two of those new anglers will be right in the mix with the Canterburys, Wendlandts. I think Clark will follow up his AOY — he’ll be in the hunt.”
Ronnie Moore predicted Canterbury could have a great season as it sets up well for him.
“I think Canterbury could have four Top 10s,” Moore said. “With Neely Henry on the Coosa River, with some Tennessee rivers and lakes and those New York lakes he’s a lot more familiar with, I think Canterbury can make another run. Four Top 10s will give him a shot.”