By Paul Huggins
The Bass Anglers Sportsman Society will crown its Angler of the Year at the conclusion of the Bassmaster Elite tournament held on Wheeler Lake on June 19.
Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, compared the event to NASCAR naming its top driver at the end of the race season, as the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year is the highest individual achievement in bass fishing, based on points earned during the season.
“It is a huge deal,” she said, “and the ESPN coverage as well as the added number of people coming to the River City to see this event is incredible news for our area.”
BASS informed Reist on Wednesday of changes in the Bassmaster Elite postseason that set up the award announcement for Decatur.
The $100,000 award will go to the angler with the most points from the 2011 season at the end of the Bassmaster Elite tourney in Decatur June 15-19. But that won’t be the end of the fishing season for top Elite Series pros.
In July, BASS will begin a new playoff. The top eight anglers in points, including angler of the year, will be invited to Toyota Trucks All-Star Week, beginning July 23, with preliminary competition on Lake Jordan near Wetumpka. In addition, Bassmaster fans will be able to select four wild-card competitors from the Bassmaster Elite Series lineup, based on votes cast at Bassmaster.com.
Michael Mulone, BASS director of site selection and event marketing, said it was simply good fortune that the new format fell into place for Decatur, but he couldn’t think of a better place for Bassmaster to have its showcase event.
“Ingalls Harbor is one of the premier fishing tournament places in the country,” he said. “It’s just a fabulous facility that we will get to highlight on our show and through our platforms. So this is just a great win for Decatur.”
The tournament and the announcement of the angler of the year will air on “The Bassmasters” television show on ESPN2, as well as the BASS website and magazine. And because of the national interest, BASS will feed the news to hundreds media outlets.
“This isn’t just any other tournament” Mulone said. “All the stories in all the papers for the other seven tournaments, will say ‘The angler of the year will be crowned later this year in June in Decatur, Alabama.’ And then those same papers and magazines will say ‘And this week in Decatur, the angler of the year was crowned.’ ”
The Decatur tournament also will benefit from more spectators coming to see the winner crowned, he said, and all the tournament sponsors will be there for what typically is a bigger party atmosphere than the other series tournaments.
“It will be a celebration of the year, and Decatur will be the site of it,” Mulone said.
Reist said the event gives Decatur another chance to show BASS that Decatur would be an ideal home for BASS headquarters.
In August, Reist sent a letter to new BASS owner Don Logan, a Morgan County native, offering Decatur to become the new headquarters. Its current headquarters is near Orlando.
“We’re going to do a big blowout to let (BASS) know how much our people love bass fishing,” Reist said. “Just imagine the crowds, ESPN, the new owner of BASS all here for this event and seeing the (Ingalls) pavilion 75 percent complete. This shows the people visiting our area that our leaders see the importance in economic development and tourism.”
Top anglers from the past
The B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year has been given annually since 1970, with Bill Dance taking the first of his three crowns that year. Roland Martin won Angler of the Year nine times, the most in B.A.S.S. history. Kevin VanDam is closing in on that record with six crowns, including the past three. The 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series begins in March with 101 anglers vying for angler of the year.
Past 10 anglers of the year:
2001: Mark Davis
2002: Davy Hite
2003: Jay Yelas
2004: Gerald Swindle
2005: Aaron Martens
2006: Michael Iaconelli
2007: Skeet Reese
2008: Kevin VanDam
2009: Kevin VanDam
2010: Kevin VanDam