Beatin' the Bank with Bernie Schultz - 2019 BASS Elite Series Preview

When Major League Fishing announced their new Bass Pro Tour, many of the sport’s biggest names signed up. That dramatically reduced the rosters of B.A.S.S. and FLW.

In a move to improve its position, B.A.S.S. introduced significant changes to the 2019 Elite Series format. Among the more impactful were a reduced field of competitors, lower entry fees and higher payouts.

This year’s Elite field is now comprised of the remaining 2018 competitors, top qualifiers from the Bassmaster Opens, a few FLW standouts, and some former Elites who were invited back. To challenge this new field, B.A.S.S. has scheduled a variety of fisheries — bodies of water that are certain to test all of the participants, whether they are seasoned or new to the tour.

With that in mind, here’s a look at what’s ahead.  

St. Johns River

insideline-bb-basspreview01.jpg

The tour has visited the St. Johns numerous times before, and each of those events required heavy weight to win. However, I’m not so sure this time, as the river is in rough shape.

Following 2017’s hurricanes and record rainfall since, the river has run high for too long. Its once lush beds of eelgrass are gone. And without them, it’s anybody’s guess where the fish will go to feed or spawn.

Based on what I saw before cutoff and the number of coldfronts since, I expect average weights to be much lower overall. Even still, the top finishers will find the right patterns and techniques to excel. And they will likely do it with crankbaits, vibrating jigs and soft-plastics.

Lake Lanier

Considered one of the best spotted bass fisheries in the country, Lanier should provide a consistent bite even through extreme cold temperatures.

It’s been decades since I fished this highland reservoir, and back then there were no blueback herring on the menu. Figuring out where and how the bass are relating to the baitfish will be essential for success.

I expect deep brush, docks and ditches leading into spawning coves to provide the most reliable bite … although a shallower largemouth option may exist if the weather warms.

Either way, jigs and soft-plastics should be strong producers in this event.

Lake Hartwell

Site of last year’s Bassmaster Classic, Hartwell is renowned to fishing fans nationwide. And considering the amount of weight it took to win that event, I’m sure big stringers of bass will, once again, come to the scales.

Hartwell is a dream fishery. It offers anglers plenty of options, both deep and shallow. In fact, it might require a combination of both to realize victory.

Many of the lake’s buck bass should be guarding fry that week, with bigger females scattered shallow and deep. Topwaters, jerkbaits and crankbaits will come into play, as will swimbaits and bottom-probing soft-plastics. 

Winyah Bay

This part of the Carolina coast features a multitude of creeks and backwaters in which to explore. Its major rivers can also lead to waters less influenced by the tide. Having so much water to sort through, zeroing in on the right areas could prove challenging. Adding to that challenge is the major flooding that impacted South Carolina’s coastal region when Hurricane Florence struck.

Now that water levels have decreased, I like the options there. The basin fishes similar to the tidal waters in my home state of Florida, so I’m looking forward to another shot.

Best baits should include topwaters, shallow-running crankbaits, spinnerbaits and swim jigs, and a myriad of soft-plastics.

Lake Fork — Texas Fest 

insideline-bb-basspreview02.jpg

If you want to see big bass, here’s your chance! Lake Fork ranks high among the nation’s hottest trophy bass fisheries, and we’re there at a good time to capitalize on the bite.

Some quality fish should still be shallow, but I’m betting the winner finds the motherlode well away from the bank. Many competitors will use topwaters and swimbaits to seine the shallows, while the guys offshore probe deep with heavy jigs and large, deep-diving crankbaits.

Watch for the winner to eclipse the 100-ound mark in this heavyweight affair.

Fort Gibson

Typical of many Midwest impoundments, Gibson is older with very little remaining timber. Still, there are plenty of places for bass to hide.

Docks, stumpfields, ditches and channel drops will be key places for the anglers to target, and they’ll use buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, jigs (both standard and vibrating) and soft-plastics to do so.

I expect a modest winning weight of around 50 pounds over four days.

Lake Guntersville

Always a favorite among the pros, Guntersville lends itself to a multitude of patterns at any given time.

The bass will be off the beds with large schools beginning to gather in favored holding places. Docks, lush grassbeds and deeper drops should come into play in June, and there could be a morning shad spawn to kick start the day.

Watch for topwaters, swimbaits, large worms and deep-diving cranks to produce in this one. And the winning weight could be huge.

St. Lawrence River 

insideline-bb-basspreview03.jpg

My favorite stop on the tour, this river has brought me tremendous success. It’s loaded with smallmouth and largemouth, and both could play a factor in deciding the outcome.

As for the smallmouth, I look for a deep, drop-shot bite like last year. For largemouth, expect frogs and flipping docks or dense milfoil to be the key for them.

Yamamoto soft-plastics will play heavily into nearly every competitors lure selection, whether they are finesse or power fishing.

Cayuga Lake

The largest of New York’s “Finger Lakes,” Cayuga is more than a 1,000 feet deep. But deep water isn’t where this tournament will be won.

Watch for docks and topped-out milfoil to produce the heaviest weights. I expect topwaters, frogs, punch baits and vibrating jigs to be among the lure selections of most anglers.

Cayuga has lots of bass, and they usually bite when you find them. But if the wind blows — especially from the south — this lake can get nasty in a hurry.

Schedule Summary

So there you have it. A schedule of waterbodies that is not only diverse, but geographically spread out as well. It will be interesting to see which personalities rise to the top and vie for Angler of the Year.

I hope I’m among them.