LEESBURG, Fla. — The 2018 B.A.S.S. tournament schedule that began in January and crisscrossed the country through 17 states over 10 months will reach its conclusion with the Bassmaster Team Championship on Dec. 5-8 at Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes.
The event will determine the final berth for the 2019 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, which is scheduled for March 15-17 in Knoxville, Tenn.
Qualified teams from around the globe will compete for two days next week to determine the national team champions. Then the six anglers from the Top 3 teams will fish solo the final two days in the Team Championship Classic Fish-Off, with the winner earning a trip to the Classic.
“It’s a pretty amazing thing to think that you’ll have teams from Arizona, Texas, Ohio — all over the country — and they’ll be competing for a chance to take part in pro fishing’s pinnacle event,” said Clifford Pirch, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Arizona who has fished the Classic five times. “I don’t care what part of the country you come from, that’s the deal you’ve always dreamed of being a part of.”
Some competitors will be traveling from other countries. Also competing in the championship are three teams from South Africa and one from Australia. To qualify, two-angler teams representing sanctioned team trails had to finish near the top of their respective circuit’s championship or team of the year race.
Daily takeoffs will be at 6:45 a.m. ET from Ski Beach Park in Leesburg, and weigh-ins will be held at the park each day at 2:45 p.m.
Counting the team qualifier, the Classic field will feature 52 anglers, including Alabama pro Jordan Lee, who receives an automatic berth as the defending champion, and Drew Benton of Florida, who punched his ticket by winning the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in May.
Seven anglers also qualified through the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens circuit, along with one from the Carhartt College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops, three from the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors, three from the Mossy Oak Fishing Classic Bracket and 35 from the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
Pirch finished 28th in the AOY standings to qualify for the Classic for the sixth time. He’s finished in the Top 20 three times at the Classic, including a 13th-place showing at South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell last year.
He’s also had some success on the Harris Chain, where the final berth will be decided. In 2012, he finished second in a Southern Open held on the fishery with a three-day total of 58 pounds, 1 ounce.
“That tournament was in January, and when it actually warmed up, I saw a lot of really big fish,” Pirch said. “Then we had a little hiccup with the weather, had a cold night. So it wasn’t quite as wide open as it could have been.
“But I definitely saw the potential of the place.”
Pirch offered some advice to the anglers taking part in the Team Championship.
“Anywhere in the Southeastern United States this time of year, I would really be looking for that little bit of clearer water and better grass,” he said. “There’s always that zone that seems to be healthier than a lot of other places.
“There are plenty of big fish in those lakes, and if you can find areas like that, you should find some of those fish.”
Pirch said it’s also important for team anglers who may not be used to fishing under such enormous pressure to remember it’s a fishing tournament, just like any other.
“You’re fishing for a Classic berth, and that’s an exciting thing for any angler,” he said. “But in the end, it’s about catching the five biggest fish you can every day. Whatever happens will happen one day at a time.”