Open anglers vault to Elite status

Jon Bondy: "My entire life has been geared towards becoming a professional angler on the BASS circuit." 

CELEBRATION, Fla. — On the surface, Jon Bondy and Robert "Doc" Merkin are polar opposites. Merkin, 55, is a veterinarian from Downers Grove, Ill., and Bondy, 32, is a veteran fishing guide from Windsor, Ontario in Canada. But the two share a common thread: Both are spirited anglers joining bass fishing's most elite league with their submissions to the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series.

Bondy and Merkin will fish the Series as rookies, meaning they are in contention for the $25,000 Toyota Rookie of the Year award as well as the more than $11 million in the tournament series, the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, the Bassmaster Majors, the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year program and other contingencies.

Bondy said his 12 previous BASS tournaments and dozen years spent as a fishing guide on Lake St. Clair — part of the Great Lakes system — was adequate preparation for 2006. "My entire life has been geared towards becoming a professional angler on the BASS circuit," Bondy said. "My ultimate goal is to make a Classic."

Bondy hopes to reach that goal — and enhance his career — through the Elite Series. "This is where I can secure my career and garner the sponsorships that everyone wants."

Both Bondy and Merkin are coming off successful 2005 Northern Open campaigns, finishing 14th and 19th respectively in the Northern Open points standings. Because of their solid performances, both were invited to fish in the Elite Series. "The Series gives anglers a tremendous opportunity to fish at the highest level under a media spotlight," Merkin said.

Like Bondy, Merkin feels his joining the Elite Series might help him secure big-name sponsors. Merkin is currently part of the Skeeter Boats team and is backed by his long-time Wisconsin sponsor, Action Marine, but said he is approaching his contacts with major pet medicine and pet food companies to sell space on his boat wrap. "I tell them we won't have any other veterinarians in the Elite field," Merkin laughed.

Bondy, who's fished in 24 BASS tournaments, is sponsored by Mercury Marine, Champion Boats, K&E Tackle, Inc., mail order hunting supply company D&R Sports Center, Pflueger Fishing Tackle, All Star Graphite Rods, marine antenna company Shakespeare Electronic Products Group and Deka Batteries.

Both have qualified for the 2005 CITGO Open Championship on the Alabama River, Dec. 1-4 in Prattville, Ala. The top five participants from the Open Championship qualify for the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla., on Feb. 24-26.

Other 2006 Elite Series anglers invited from the Northern Open circuit are Ohio's Frank Scalish, Virginia's Rick Morris, Pennsylvania's Paul Hirosky, Maryland's Darrin Schwenkbeck, Kentucky's Bill Lowen and Oklahoma's Ken Cook and David Smith.