Tennessee angler David Mullins is leading the 2020 Bassmaster Angler of the Year race by just five points heading into the season's last event — the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks & Wildlife Department on Lake Fork.
Photo by B.A.S.S.
QUITMAN, Texas — Three elements have come together — one planned, one unpredictable and one unforeseen — to create a perfect storm of Bassmaster Elite Series drama at Lake Fork Nov. 5-8. From Angler of the Year to Rookie of the Year to berths in the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, a fascinating number of scenarios will be in play at the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
When the 2020 schedule was announced, it didn’t include a season-ending Angler of the Year Championship, which since 2014 had included only the Top 50 anglers in AOY points. That Top 50 format was, inadvertently, a drama-killer. It eliminated the volatility in points that occurs in all the other full-field events.
In regular season full-field events, first-place is worth 100 points and each place down the standings is worth one point less. With the current 85-man field, last place is worth 16 points, provided the angler catches at least one bass over two days. No bass, no points.
In most years there’s no way to know whether one angler will have a nearly insurmountable lead in AOY points before the season-ending event. It has happened in the past. But that’s not the case this year. David Mullins, of Mt. Carmel, Tenn., has just a five-point lead over Elite Series rookie Austin Felix, of Eden Prairie, Minn. The Top 5 anglers — Mullins, Felix, Clark Wendlandt of Leander, Texas, Jake Whitaker of Fairview, N.C. and Kyle Welcher of Opelika, Ala. — are separated by only 31 points.
As for the Rookie of the Year race, Felix leads Welcher by 26 points. Japanese angler Taku Ito is third, 63 points behind Welcher.
Finally, there’s the unforeseen, namely the COVID-19 pandemic. The Elite Series schedule was completely reshuffled after the 2020 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk at Lake Guntersville on March 6-8. The season-ending event in the original schedule was at Lake St. Clair on Aug. 20-23. The Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest was scheduled June 5-9, as the sixth in a nine-tournament slate.
Texas Fest has always included some bonuses bigger than the other regular-season events. First place is worth $125,000 instead of $100,000, and the angler with the biggest bass of the tournament receives a Toyota Tundra. But what can be the biggest prize for the winner, depending upon his AOY rank, is an automatic berth into the Bassmaster Classic. It seems fitting that in this crazy year, there would be a single automatic Classic berth available to every angler, no matter how far down the list he is in AOY points, in this final Elite Series event of 2020.
It is impossible to overestimate what it means for anglers to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. Qualifying for the Classic signals a successful season for the angler, their family, sponsors and future in the sport. The Top 39 anglers in the final AOY points list qualify for the Classic. However, that number grows each season by a varying amount based on double-qualifiers.
For instance, as the 2020 Classic champion, Hank Cherry, of Lincolnton, N.C., automatically qualifies for the 2021 Classic. Cherry is currently 43rd in AOY points. If he moves inside the Top 39 Classic cut at Lake Fork, it would move the AOY list down another spot to 40.
If an angler wins Texas Fest at Lake Fork who is inside the AOY Classic cut, it would move the Classic qualifiers list down another spot to 41.
The Classic double-qualifiers grow also from the Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens Series winners. A Classic berth is awarded to each of the eight Opens winners.
Elite Series angler Patrick Walters, of Summerville, S.C., won September’s Bassmaster Eastern Open on Lake Hartwell. He currently ranks 11th in AOY points. A prerequisite for Classic qualification for an Opens winner is that the angler competes in all four tournaments of the division, whether Eastern or Central. Walters won’t officially be double-qualified until he competes in the final Eastern Open remaining on the schedule, but that’s a given. So the AOY Classic cut mark starts at 39, has moved to 40, and, if you count Walters, it could be 42 after Texas Fest, depending on Cherry’s AOY finish and whether the tournament winner is Classic-qualified via AOY.
There are still two Opens Series tournaments on the revised schedule — Nov. 19-21 at Texas’ Lewisville Lake and Dec. 3-5 at Alabama’s Lay Lake.
So, no matter what happens at Lake Fork, the automatic qualifiers from the final AOY points standings won’t be known until that final Eastern Open in December at Lay Lake.
But, again, with this full-field format in the final event, there will likely be several ups and downs in the AOY points race around that 40th place mark. There are infinite scenarios around the Classic cut line when only 55 points separate 35th place and 50th place, as they do now.
Thanks to a perfect storm of events, there will be more drama in an Elite Series final tournament of the year than there has ever been before.
Bassmaster LIVE will cover the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Nov. 5-8 on Bassmaster.com and ESPN3. Championship Sunday will feature additional live coverage on ESPN2. Check local listings for details.
The tournament is being hosted by the Sabine River Authority and Wood County Economic Development Commission.
2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Abu Garcia, Berkley, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Ranger Boats, Skeeter Boats, Talon, Yamaha
2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops, Carhartt, Garmin, Huk Performance Fishing, Mossy Oak Fishing, Rapala
2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Conservation Partners: AFTCO, Huk
2020 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest Local Hosts: Sabine River Authority, Wood County Economic Development Commission
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