Bassmaster Classic takes place this week


Bassmaster’s biggest stage comes to Fort Worth this week as the belated Academy Sports and Outdoors Bassmaster Classic plays out on Lake Ray Roberts, a powerhouse, rain-swollen reservoir east of Sanger.

Originally slated for March 19-21, the 2021 Classic was rescheduled to June 11-13 because of COVID-19 and the limits on large gatherings that were in effect at the time. Restrictions have since been relaxed and the hype is building for a fan favorite fishing event that many consider to be professional bass fishing’s marquee tournament. Official practice started Friday.

Fittingly referred to as the sport’s “Super Bowl,” the Classic centers on 54 of the nation’s top-ranked anglers who will square off on one of northeast Texas’ premier big bass fisheries.

It’s the first BASS sanctioned tournament held at 25,600-acre Ray Roberts and only the third Bassmaster Classic ever held on Texas waters. Previous Texas Classics were in 1979 at Lake Texoma and 2017 at Lake Conroe.

Anglers can weigh five bass per day with the top 25 pros after two days advancing to the high stakes finale. The winner earns $300,000, plus the opportunity to parlay the victory into lucrative sponsorship deals.

Contestants aren’t the only ones with a shot to earn a plump pay day. The event should be a cash cow for the Fort Worth area.

BASS says nearly 123,000 people attended the 2020 Classic on Lake Guntersville in Birmingham, Ala., generating nearly $36 million the local economy.

The Fort Worth Sports Commission and Visit Fort Worth will host afternoon weigh-ins at Dickies Arena, while an Outdoor Expo featuring around 200 vendors will be held at Will Rogers Memorial Center. A Bassmaster Classic Kickoff Party begins at 4 p.m. June 10 at the The Stockyards and Mule Alley.

Jason Sands, director of the Fort Worth Sports Commission, said he expects the tournament to attract more than 70,000 fishing fans who could bring more than an $20 million in direct spending into the area.

“This is the Super Bowl of bass fishing and it is an incredible privilege to welcome anglers, their families and fans from around the country to Fort Worth,” he said.

Hopefully, Ray Roberts’ bass will cooperate. The Bassmaster Classic three-day, 15-fish weight record of 69 pounds, 11 ounces was set in 2011.

Ray Roberts has a history of producing big bass. The lake record largemouth is a 15.18-pounder. Fish in the 8- to 10-pound range frequently show up at tournament weigh-ins.

The lake also produces an occasional “meanmouth” bass in the 5- to 6-pound range. Meanmouths are smallmouth/spotted bass crossbreeds. A lake record 6.42-pounder was caught in 2019.

Changing conditions could make things tricky. Heavy rains over the last two weeks have caused the water levels to rise significantly and water temperatures have been cooler than usual.

Danny Golden of Justin has been a full-time guide on the lake for 20 years and knows it well. Golden expects a gamut of patterns will be in play in shallow and deep water.

“If water levels were normal, I would have said it would be won fishing deeper structure in 15 to 25 feet or using forward-facing sonar in the timber, but I’m not so sure about that now,” he said. “With the lake high, there’s a ton of flooded cover that’s going be holding a bunch of fish shallow. It’s going to make for an interesting Classic. Everyone should be able to fish their strengths.”

Golden predicts it will take 58-62 pounds to win, but he said he won’t be surprised if the person who takes the trophy has significantly more. “It can happen on this lake if you get on the right fish out deep and have a good milk run each day,” he said.

Texas will be well-represented with five anglers in the field, including Cody Bird of Granbury, Clark Wendlandt of Leander, Brad Whatley of Bivens, Frank Talley of Temple and Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth.

Zaldain won a new Toyota truck for catching the biggest bass — a 7-12 — in the 2016 Toyota Texas Bass Classic on Ray Roberts.

Bird, 58, earned his first Classic berth by winning the 2020 BASS Central Open on Alabama’s Neely Henry Lake. The other Texans are Elite Series qualifiers.

If Bird doesn’t do well it won’t be for a lack of effort. He lives 21/2 hours from the lake, but had only been there three times before last December.

He spent about 25 days on the water before the lake went off limits to contestants in early April. He rented a storage building near the lake to keep his boat between trips.

Bird said he invested a bundle of time using his electronics to locate potential sweet spots in deep water where he thought bigger post spawn females might gather in early June. He fished for only about two hours.

“I was planning for an early summer tournament in the middle of winter and early spring — trying to figure out the places where the fish might go after the spawn,” he said. “It’s difficult to do, but that was my gamble. I’m fishing this tournament to win and I think you’re going to need a big bag at least one day to do that. My plan was to have some deep places with the potential to produce 25 pounds. I think I’ve got a good offshore plan, but it could fly all to pieces with the high water.”

Wendlandt, 54, said he spent about week on the lake before the cutoff. Like Bird, he initially believed the tournament might be won offshore, but could change if the lake stays high.

“I think it depends on the conditions, but my thought is a lot of the bigger fish will be offshore,” said Wendlandt, a five-time Classic qualifier and the 2020 Elite Series Angler of the Year. “This Classic is anybody’s ballgame with a wide-open playing field, because we don’t have a lot of tournament history there.”

Toyota Bass Classic in May 2016 was the only big tournament ever held there and that, “It was won shallow when the water was really high.”

This will be Whatley’s second Classic. He was planning to fish cold turkey when practice got underway on Friday.

“I did get to ride around the lake for two days last fall, but that’s about it,” Whatley said. “I went back in March and a cold front with 30 mph north winds blew in right before I got there. It was a complete waste of gasoline.”

Whatley, 40, said the weather leading up to the Classic will dictate his approach. If the lake continues to rise he said he will likely stick close to the bank. Otherwise, he’ll be heading offshore.

The lake is nearly four feet high as of Wednesday morning.

“Either way, I’ll be fishing five big bites a day,” Whatley said. “The Classic is a tournament where you don’t worry about just having a good finish. You go big or go home.”

New weigh-in format: BASS says weigh-ins on the first two days of the upcoming tournament will be carried out differently than previous Classics, all in the name of conservation.

Anglers will privately weigh their catch on the same scale immediately after check-in at the Isle Du Bois Unit boat ramp at Ray Roberts, but only two fish may be trailered to the formal weigh-in, 11/2 hours away at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth. Others will be released before leaving the lake.

BASS opted for fewer fish at the formal weigh-in during the opening rounds to help reduce potential stress on the fish that might occur as the result of warmer water temperatures and reduced oxygen levels.

“BASS and the Texas Parks Wildlife Department are partnering to ensure bass will be healthy when released back into Lake Ray Roberts,” said Gene Gilliland, BASS national conservation director. “We created a plan that prioritizes conservation of the catch while also maintaining a traditional arena experience for the fans and TV and preserving the integrity of the Classic. Our goal is to ensure the fish caught will be returned to Ray Roberts to be caught again by Texas anglers.”

The field cuts to the top 25 for the final round. Anglers will be permitted to bring five fish to Fort Worth for the final weigh-in. TPWD biologists will help check and prep livewells before the drive.


SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:

Bassmaster Classic Kickoff Party

Join us for our Kickoff Party and let the Classic celebration begin!

Thursday, June 10, Historic Stockyards in Fort Worth, 4 p.m. - 9 p.m.

4 p.m. - See the legendary Fort Worth Herd Cattle Drive

6 p.m. - Special guest appearance from country music star Jimmie Allen who will play a couple of songs before his 9 p.m. show at Billy Bob’s Texas (Click here to purchase tickets for Jimmie Allen’s Billy Bob’s Texas show)

6:45-9 p.m. - Live music from the Squeezebox Bandits

Plus, fun activities, booth displays and early B.A.S.S. Life & Nation Member credential pickup

Takeoffs at Ray Roberts State Park in Pilot Point, Texas

Ray Roberts Lake State Park

Isle Du Bois Unit

100 PW 4137

Pilot Point, TX 76258-8944

Takeoffs will be held at Lake Ray Roberts at 6:15 a.m. CT, June 11-13.

Get the day started early with an up-close view of the Classic contender takeoff! Plus, check out booths and activations from our sponsors.

Academy Sports + Outdoors

Toyota

Take a demo ride — checkout Skeeter, Yamaha, Mercury, Nitro and Triton booths

Weigh-ins at Dickies Arena, June 11-13

Doors open at 3 p.m. for credentialed B.A.S.S. Life and B.A.S.S. Nation members and 3:15 p.m. for the general public. The weigh-in is expected to begin around 4:30 p.m.

Fun promotions with more giveaways from B.A.S.S. sponsors!

Watch the anglers weigh in their Lake Ray Roberts catch

IMPORTANT: Please see the prohibited items, building policies, sensory information, and bag policy information for Dickies Arena.

Visit the huge Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo

Exhibitors will be onsite selling a variety of merchandise for fishing, hunting, camping, and more – an outdoor enthusiast’s dream! Click here for more details about the Expo, including an exhibitor list.

Friday, June 11, 2021 - Media/B.A.S.S. Life & Nation Members

Members Preview

11 a.m. - Noon

General Public

Noon - 7 p.m.

Saturday, June 12, 2021 - 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Sunday, June 13, 2021 - 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Take the kids to the Go Out{side} Experience

All activities are FREE!

Friday through Sunday at the Outdoors Expo

Win prizes and get giveaways

Watch the dog dock jumping competition

Check out the Exhibitors including:

Texas Brigades, a collection of wildlife and natural

resource-focused leadership development programs for youth

Fort Worth Zoo's Texas Nature Traders program

(Saturday and Sunday only)

Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

o Archery (inflatable/soft-tip)

o State park info

o Coastal touch table

o Boater Education table

Catfish pond for kids

Grizzly Coolers

AFTCO

Big Green Egg

Eukanuba

Air Force simulators

Toyota – practice your casting skills and meet and greet with Elite anglers

Off-roading in downtown Cow Town

Epic made possible by Toyota

Experience our off-road drive course

Located at Harley Avenue and Trail Drive

Come see why Toyota's territory is off-road

Visit the B.A.S.S. booth!

Get your picture made with the Bassmaster Classic trophy

Watch Bassmaster LIVE and see the hosts in person

Bob Cobb, the original Bassmaster Magazine editor, will be signing his book,

The B.A.S.S. Story Unplugged. Stop by to meet Bob and get a photo!


Fans are welcome free of charge to watch the activities for the 6:15 a.m. CT blastoffs. Reigning Bassmaster Angler of the Year Clark Wendlandt will lead the procession with 2020 Classic champ Hank Cherry to follow. The remainder of the field drew for starting positions. The Day 2 launch order is reversed.

Life and Nation members can enter the expo at 11 a.m. CT Friday, with general public hours noon-7 p.m. On Saturday, hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Sunday the expo runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Also part of the expo is the Go Out(side) Experience, which offers family fun like inflatable archery, cornhole, jumping dogs, knot tying and even a catfish pond.

The arena doors open at 3 p.m. CT for B.A.S.S. Life and Nation members and the general public may enter at 3:15. The weigh-ins are set to begin at approximately 4:30 p.m. CT each day. Fans can catch the fishing action and the weigh-ins with streaming coverage on Bassmaster.com. The Bassmaster LIVE crew will present more than seven hours of on-the-water coverage each day. For the first time, the Classic also features four hours on the FOX broadcast network Saturday from 7-11 a.m. CT, and there will be four hours of Championship Sunday coverage on FS1 from 7-11 a.m.

With recent rains, the water level is high on Lake Ray Roberts, turning what was believed to be a deeper water event into a mystery. With water in the bushes, anglers believe there will be fish spread all over the lake.

The 54 competitors, who qualified through several avenues, will seek their best five fish measuring 14 inches or longer over the first two days of competition Friday and Saturday. The top 25 move on to Championship Sunday with $300,000 going to the winner out of the $1 million payout.


Bass fishing’s premier event

at Lake Ray Roberts

By Texas Parks and Wildlife Department


Fort Worth, Texas – The eyes of the fishing world will be on Lake Ray Roberts June 11-13 for the 51st Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. It will be the third time bass fishing’s world championship event will be held in Texas having previously been held on Lake Texoma in 1979 and Lake Conroe in 2017.

Craig Bonds, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Inland Fisheries Director, is pleased to see this event return to the Lonestar state, “The exceptional bass-fishing quality in Texas is a reflection of the dedicated and capable work of our team of fisheries professionals and partners. I'm thrilled BASS chose to spotlight a lake and host city poised to put on a memorable show with a Texas flavor.”

The TPWD Inland Fisheries Division has worked tirelessly over the years to make Lake Ray Roberts a world class fishery. The Toyota ShareLunker program, which is coming off a record season, has been a part of that work. Fingerlings from the program and additional stockings have been placed in the lake over the years to help create “Bigger Better Bass.” Lake Ray Roberts has produced six Legacy Lunkers, including the lake record 15.18-pound Lunker #560 on March 7, 2015.

In addition, during the construction of the lake, TPWD and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers teamed up to help preserve and develop good fish habitat. Selective harvesting of timber was done, and the Corps built massive mounds of brush piles. Ray Roberts Lake has approximately 2,000 acres of standing timber, located mostly in the upper reaches of both major arms. Rip-rap can be found along the dam and near bridge crossings and aquatic vegetation is present along some shorelines. Additional structure is provided by stream channels, flooded main-lake points, inundated pond dams, flooded rocks/boulders/stumps, and the 44 inundated brush piles constructed before impoundment.

Fish care is a top priority for both TPWD and BASS. The tournament was originally scheduled for March but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The potential June heat and the distance from Lake Ray Roberts to Dickie’s Arena in Fort Worth, created concerns for fish health. The two organizations worked together to develop procedures for how to best care for the fish in this situation and minimize any potential negative impacts to the fish population.

On the first two days of the tournament, each angler’s bag will be weighed at the lake and up to two of their largest fish can be returned to the livewell for transport to the arena. All remaining fish will then be immediately transferred to the live release boat and returned to the lake. If in the case an angler catches an exceptional bag, TPWD staff could allow that angler to transport their limit for display. These changes will reduce the number of bass being transported round trip from the lake to the arena by 50 percent during the full field portion of the tournament.

At Dickie’s Arena, anglers will display up to two bass to the fans and the official weight that was determined at the lake will then be officially revealed. Following some quick photos, the fish will be taken backstage and TPWD biologists will load the fish into hatchery trailers and returned to the lake where releases boats and personnel are waiting to place the fish back into Lake Ray Roberts.

On Championship Sunday, the 25 final anglers can bring a five-bass limit to the arena. The fish care protocol from the previous two days remains in effect. TPWD biologists will check for length and health at the lake, ice and distribute the fish between livewells. The catches will be weighed on stage Sunday and then returned to Ray Roberts for release. Through these measures, fish care and minimizing impacts to the fish population can remain as a top priority while still providing an outstanding experience for the anglers and fans who will be in the arena in Fort Worth.

Bonds believes the innovative collaboration between TPWD and BASS staffs was key to balancing fish care and the fan experience. "We knew moving the event to June was necessary to accommodate the in-person fan experience and were committed to coordinating with BASS in developing a creative fish-care process that also minimized potential impacts to a valuable public fishery resource. I think we arrived at an effective compromise approach."

TPWD will have several programs participating in the expo portion of the event. The Toyota ShareLunker program, Angler Education, Life’s Better Outside activities, Operation Game Thief, and Aquatic Nuisance Species air boat will all be available for visitors to enjoy.

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