As 110 of the world’s best bass anglers converge on the central Mississippi fishery, thick-shouldered largemouth bass will be the center of attention at the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite at Ross Barnett, April 27-30, out of Ridgeland.
With a $100,000 first-place prize and valuable Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points on the line, the fourth of nine regular-season Bassmaster Elite Series events will put the top-tier, competitive-angling spotlight on the picturesque 33,000-acre reservoir.
“We’ve had several years of very successful shad spawns — both gizzard and threadfin shad — that, in turn, have produced several impressive year classes of Ross Barnett bass,” said Ryan Jones, Central Region fisheries biologist for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP). “The fishery as a whole is very healthy, and the bass population is in tremendous shape right now.”
Jones said water levels have begun to stabilize following periods of high water, and he believes the Elite anglers should be in for some exciting fishing.
“Based on our fall sampling and survey data, the average largemouth bass weighed during tournaments in 2016 was about 2 1/2 pounds,” he said. “Thanks to a healthy forage base and adequate habitat for both predator and prey, the lake is more than capable of kicking out limits in the low 30-pound range.”
Although weights that heavy are unlikely during a postspawn event because the bass tend to lose weight during the annual breeding phase, Jones believes several five-bass limits exceeding 20 pounds will be a daily occurrence.
“In recent years, Ross Barnett was an average lake, at best. Tournament anglers would need to catch 12 to 15 pounds of bass per day to win a multi-day event, but I fully expect to see a big improvement with the world’s best bass fishermen on the water,” he said. “I believe we’ll see a big bass in the 8- to 9-pound range, and a fish exceeding 10 pounds would not surprise me at all.”
Randall Tharp of Port St. Joe, Fla., won a 2013 Bass Pro Shops Central Open on Ross Barnett with a three-day total of 41 pounds, 15 ounces, or about 14 pounds per day. But the Elite Series veteran is excited to get back to the improved Mississippi bass lake and compete for another coveted blue trophy.
“I’ve heard the lake has improved dramatically, and as I’ve monitored tournament weights during the pre-practice period, I’ve been impressed with the size of bass regularly brought to the scales,” said Tharp. “Other than the Open I won there, I don’t have a lot of other experience to draw from, but I do know that anytime I can flip a jig I’m happy. And, you can bet a jig will play this time around.”
Takeoff will begin daily at 6:15 a.m. CT from Madison Landing in Ridgeland, Miss., and weigh-ins will be held each afternoon at Old Trace Park beginning at 3:15 p.m.
The Bassmaster Elite Series Outdoors Expo will also take place at Old Trace Park on Saturday and Sunday beginning at noon. The expo will feature boat and motor demo rides by Skeeter, Yamaha, Nitro, Triton and Mercury, live music, food trucks, beer garden and arts and crafts vendors. Toyota and Mississippi Dept. of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks will also be onsite with activities such as an archery range, video game competitions, disc golf, putt-putt and more.
The event is hosted by the Ridgeland Tourism Commission.