STURGEON BAY, Wis. — One million dollars is on the line for the Top 50 Bassmaster Elite Series anglers at the 2015 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year championship on Sturgeon Bay, Wis.
As Bassmaster emcee Dave Mercer put it today: “These are the final days of a year-long tournament.”
Having already secured the points title, Aaron Martens is wrapping up one of the most dominating seasons in Bassmaster history.
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“I’m fishing for fun, but I’m making sure I don’t catch fish that another anglers need to improve their standings in the AOY race,” Martens said. “There’s no pressure for me to perform here, and I kind of like that.”
By finishing sixth at the final regular-season tournament on Lake St. Clair out of Detroit, Martens earned enough points to become untouchable and clinched his third AOY title.
The story on Sturgeon Bay is the anglers battling for the required points to qualify for the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro on Grand Lake, Okla.
The Top 24 anglers in the points only had to catch one fish Thursday to secure their Classic berth, and each of them did. The proverbial bubble exists within a few places either side of 40th, which is the Classic cutoff.
“I experienced some gear-related problems this morning and that really set me back,” said Mike Iaconelli, the 2006 Bassmaster Angler of the Year. “The best fish I was catching during practice were in the morning, and I lost over two hours of fishing time while working things out. Fortunately, I managed to find enough bass to help me move up in points. Now my goal is to get out there tomorrow and improve on today’s weight and secure a Classic berth.”
Iaconelli started the day in 45th place, but after weighing four bass totaling 11 pounds, 7 ounces, he unofficially moved up to 38th, just inside the Classic cut. He is attempting to qualify for his 15thconsecutive Bassmaster Classic.
Jacob Powroznik was holding down fourth place in the AOY race. He weighed the fourth largest limit of smallmouth bass Thursday at 20-1 and moved into second place in points, unofficially. If that position improvement holds, it will mean an additional $15,000 in prize money.
“Today I managed to get only 10 bites, and after I had five good bass in the livewell, I left it alone,” Powroznik said. “I think the same quality fish will be there again tomorrow, but they all have that old-fish look. That tells me they’ve seen lures before and will be harder to convince.”
Powroznik is fishing a 200-yard stretch that has been holding quite a few fish. But if the wind picks up out of the northwest, staying on the best part of his location could become difficult.
An interesting situation is brewing with Todd Faircloth, who won the Plano Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair last month. Coming into that tournament his chances of making the 2016 Classic were dismal. However, after winning, fishing the Classic on Grand Lake is now a real possibility.
“I told myself that I wouldn’t put any added pressure on my season by focusing on the points I needed to make the Classic cut,” he said. “I had a great year capped off by a victory on St. Clair. But, after a solid day out there, I’m really thinking the Classic is a possibility.”
Faircloth began his day in 40th place, currently the last place that will qualify for the Classic. After weighing 18-5, he is currently in 33rd place, unofficially. A solid second and third day will lock in his 14thBassmaster Classic appearance.
Takeoff will be held Friday morning out of CenterPointe Marina at 6:30 a.m. CT. Afternoon weigh-in will be held in the same location beginning at 3:15 p.m.
On Saturday, Sept. 19, all 50 anglers will participate in Bassmaster University, which will take place during the day at Stone Harbor Resort & Conference Center. Anglers, including former AOYs Kevin VanDam, Michael Iaconelli and Skeet Reese, will be available for meet-and-greets, bass-fishing advice and seminars. Local vendors and sponsors will also be on-hand to discuss products and services.
Also on Saturday as part of its Bassmaster Fan and Military Appreciation Day, B.A.S.S. will give a special commemorative Bassmaster cap to the first 250 military service members who come to the B.A.S.S. booth with a military identification card. All 50 Elite anglers will be on hand to sign autographs as well.
Activities planned throughout the weekend are free and open to the public. Companies like Mercury, Nitro, Skeeter, Triton, and Yamaha will have booths at the expo and will offer demo rides. Toyota, Carhartt, Berkley, Booyah, Humminbird, Livingston Lures, Lowrance, Minn Kota, Mustang, Plano, Power-Pole, Shimano, Rigid Industries and Costa Sunglasses, will also exhibit.