NEW ORLEANS — NEW ORLEANS - Next year, the BASS professional circuit will include four events for the best and most consistent anglers.
The Elite 50 will be open to the Angler of the Year, the top rookie, the top 20 anglers from the all-time money list, the top 27 anglers in points standings over the three previous years and Mike Iaconelli, the 2003 Bassmaster Classic champion.
BASS officials said the format will allow fans to follow the best veteran anglers and those with the hot hand.
"We said two years ago that we were going to build stars, but you can't build 175 stars," said Dean Kessel, vice president and general manager of BASS. "This is the first big step. It allows the cream to rise to the top."
Competitors will not have to pay entry fees. A total of $1.6 million in cash will be paid out to the Elite 50, with each angler guaranteed a check. The top 10 finishers in the four-event series are guaranteed a spot in the 2004 Classic.
After the 2005 season, the qualifying criteria for the "E-50" will change slightly to reduce the number of competitors from the all-time money list from 20 to 10 and add those slots to the points leaders category.
The Bassmaster Tour will consist of six events next year, open to the top 175 anglers. The prize money will total $2.68 million.
The always-modest Ray Scott, the founder of BASS, commenting on his importance to the sport after winning the BASS Outstanding Achievement Award: "I'm just a 6-foot-2, 220-pound monument to the fishermen who want know-ledge."
ESPN host Fish Fishburne, while briefing anglers about being interviewed on TV: "The best story is a NASCAR story. Why? Because they crash. Talk about your crash, your mistakes. ESPN eats that stuff up."
First-day leader Mark Menendez on dealing with pressure: "It's not rocket science, and we're not curing cancer. It's a business, sure, but it's fishing and it should be fun."
Skeet Reese, four-time Classic qualifier, joking about missing the cut and having to work the trade show autograph booth the final day: "I'd rather be out there fishing, but I'm in the penalty box."
Shaw Grigsby, Florida pro, describing stormy conditions on the Gulf Coast: "We were going to name my boat the SS Minnow. The only person missing was Marianne."
Indiana pro Koby Kreiger on New Orleans cooking: "Everything is either soupy, lumpy or dry."