July 01, 2016
BUFFALO, N.Y. — In nearly three decades of professional bass fishing, Kevin VanDam thought he’d experienced every kind of competitive format the Bassmaster Tournament Trail could possibly throw at him.
But on July 19-22, KVD and seven others will be part of something new to professional bass fishing.
That’s when the Bassmaster Classic Bracket tournament will be held on the Niagara River, with the Top 8 finishers from last week’s Elite Series event at Cayuga Lake competing in an angler vs. angler, bracket-style format. A total purse of $50,000 and a berth in the 2017 Bassmaster Classic will be on the line.
As the winner of the Cayuga Lake event, VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., will be the No. 1 seed and will face off against eighth-place finisher Drew Benton of Panama City, Fla., in the quarterfinals. Other quarterfinal matchups will include No. 2 Jordan Lee of Grant, Ala., vs. No. 7 Dean Rojas of Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; No. 3 Brett Hite of Phoenix, Ariz., vs. No. 6 Keith Combs of Huntington, Texas; and No. 4 Jacob Powroznik of Port Haywood, Va., vs. No. 5 Koby Kreiger of Bokeelia, Fla.
The Classic Bracket will feature — for the first time ever in a B.A.S.S. competition — a catch-weigh-release scoring system. That means competitors will have each bass they catch weighed on the water by judges and released immediately.
Also for the first time, Bassmaster LIVE will broadcast coverage of the entire tournament, from first cast until the fishing stops, with a camera in every boat. Fans can watch the LIVE show on Bassmaster.com Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and on WatchESPN and the ESPN app on Wednesday.
Only the heaviest five bass per angler will be counted, and there will be no post-tournament weigh-in.
“For the fans, it’s really going to bring a new look to the sport,” said VanDam, who holds the B.A.S.S. record with 22 career victories. “I know the coverage is going to be better. When you have a live camera on all of the competitors the whole time, that makes it a lot of fun.”
The quarterfinal matchups will play out over two days with Match One (VanDam vs. Benton) and Match Two (Powroznik vs. Kreiger) taking place July 19 from 8:30-11:30 a.m. ET. Match Three (Hite vs. Combs) and Match Four (Lee vs. Rojas) will be held the same day from 1:30-4:30 p.m.
“This event is what we all dream about — live, blow-by-blow coverage of B.A.S.S. competition with the world’s best anglers taking part,” said B.A.S.S. Tournament Director Trip Weldon. “Now that the second day has been picked up by WatchESPN, it just enhances the prestige of this event.”
The anglers will make their initial runs by boat to their chosen locations before the start of competition, and official weights will be shown on Bassmaster.com via the same BASSTrakk function that shows unofficial weights during standard Elite Series events.
“You’re not competing against the fish here,” VanDam said. “You know you’ve got to beat this other guy or you go home. It’s a unique format, and I’m looking forward to it.”
The quarterfinals will continue July 20 with Match Three (Hite vs. Combs) and Match Four (Lee vs. Rojas) taking place from 8:30-11:30 a.m. and Match One (VanDam vs. Benton) and Match Two (Powroznik vs. Kreiger) moving to the afternoon hours of 1:30-4:30 p.m.
The semifinal round on July 21 will pit the Match One winner vs. the Match Two winner and Match Three winner vs. the Match Four winner. The weights will go back to zero, and all anglers will fish six hours, from 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
The winner of those two matches will advance to the July 22 championship round. With weights starting from zero again, the anglers will fish head to head from 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for the title.
Of the eight anglers involved, Kreiger likely has the most to gain.
He’s currently ranked 72nd in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, and only about the Top 30 anglers in the final standings earn a berth into the Classic. With just two regular-season Elite Series events left, Kreiger is a long shot to qualify through that route.
“This is a golden opportunity for me,” he said. “The seven other are guys have already pretty much punched their tickets to the Classic. That gives me a chance to do something really special in this bracket.”
The payout for the bracket event will be distributed as follows: $10,000 and a Classic berth for first place, $8,000 for second place, $6,000 each for third and fourth place (eliminated from semifinals) and $5,000 each for fifth through eighth place (eliminated from quarterfinals).
There is no entry fee for the tournament. The local host for this event is I Love New York.