Brian Snowden's fall at the finish line of the 2008 Sunshine Showdown still stands as one of the most dramatic moments of the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Leading by almost 10 pounds after the third day of competition on Florida's Harris Chain of Lakes, Snowden zeroed the next day in the final round. He could only watch as Mike McClelland slapped 15 pounds on the scale and claimed victory.
"That was something I thought Brian had it," McClelland said as the Elite Series heads back to the Harris Chain for the 2011 version of the Sunshine Showdown, March 10-13 out of Tavares, Fla.
Naturally disappointed at the time, Snowden is over it now. Today he regards the fishery in a purely positive way no bad karma, no baggage.
"The Harris Chain has always been very good to me," said the pro from Reeds Spring, Mo., who can claim three top 15 finishes on the central Florida group of lakes. "I am looking forward to going back. If I could win, that would be a little bit of redemption, and I'll definitely strive for that."
Unlike Snowden and McClelland, Mark Menendez recently scouted the Harris Chain. An Elite Series pro from Paducah, Ky., Menendez finished 11th at the 2008 Elite Series tournament on the Harris Chain, but he wanted to peel the onion further, so he headed there in November.
"I was able to find a few key areas, the kind I've been looking for; so I'm hopeful," he said. "The lake should really be alive when we get there."
Marking the start of the 2011 Elite Series season, the event out of Tavares also will show off the changes to bass fishing's top-level circuit under new B.A.S.S. ownership. One difference is an enticing addition to the $100,000 winner's package: bypassing the points system for an instant qualification for the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.
But the points system still will have a strong influence on all 99 Elite Series anglers' game plans. Points determine four rewards: 1) After eight regular-season events, the pro with the most points will win the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title and $100,000; 2) the top 73 will qualify for the 2012 Elite Series season; 3) the top 28 will earn 2012 Classic entries; and 4) only the top 8 will qualify for the postseason, which has been reconfigured in a $100,000 winner-take-all format.
It all begins with the Harris Chain event. While Snowden and McClelland haven't been back since 2008, Elite Series pro Bobby Lane has. He competed there in a 2009 Bassmaster Open, where he took third place exactly how he finished in the Sunshine Showdown of 2008. Since 2009, he's taken a quick look, he said.
"The lakes look exactly the same," said the Lakeland, Fla., pro who grew up on Florida bass fishing. "Nothing has changed."
In March, bass are likely to be biting in any of the 10 lakes designated as tournament waters, so Lane doesn't plan to stick to just one of them.
"I like to move around," Lane said. "With that many lakes, and the time of the year, you just never know where the fish are going to be or what they're doing. You don't usually find a concentration of fish; it's two or three in one area, two or three in the next. There's not just one spot where you can catch a limit."
Snowden also plans to lake-hop to find productive areas. "Every time I've been there, those have been different," he said.
The most productive spots are likely to be in shoreline grass or batches of lily pads, or around docks and boathouses, Lane said.
"All the lakes have key spots," he said. "If you find them, you might have them all to yourself. It's the canals where the pressure is going to be."
The lake-connecting canals can be as narrow as two boats laid end to end, he said.
Some pros will target spawners, but not Snowden.
"I would rather not sight fish, so I don't go looking for the clearer water," he said. "There are specific areas with natural springs that stay very clear all the time, and those are the areas most of the sight fishing will be in. The springs are a constant temperature, so the water warms quicker, and fish use those areas because of that."
Snowden said he expects four-day total weights to be on par with the weights pros produced at the 2008 Sunshine Showdown.
"It will probably take 48 pounds to be in the top 12, and right at 58 to 60 to win," he said.
Editor's Note: Bassmaster.com is expanding coverage of Elite Series events to include a live blog (much like the Classic live blog) on Saturdays and Sundays. We will also increase live video updates. More information is coming later this week, including schedules and links, so stay tuned.
Facts about the Bassmaster Elite Series event on Florida's Harris Chain of Lakes:
The March 10-13 weigh-ins and launches are open to the public; there's no admission charge.
The weigh-in site is Wooten Park, 150 E. Ruby St., Tavares, FL 32778; the launch site is the Tavares Seaplane Base & Marina at the same address, which is on Lake Dora.
Takeoff time will be at 7:30 a.m. ET.
Weigh-ins will begin each day at 4 p.m. ET.
The daily bag limit is five bass. Bass must be at least 12 inches in length.
The field of 99 will be cut to the top 50 for the third day of competition. Only the top 12 will compete on the fourth and final day.
First prize is $100,000 and an instant 2012 Bassmaster Classic entry.
Bassmaster.com will provide extensive online coverage, and it's all free.
Live video of the weigh-ins, along with real-time leaderboards, will begin at 4 p.m. ET.
"Hooked Up!" with The Bassmasters hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona will be presented at Bassmaster.com. (Closer to tournament time, check online for air times.)
Because of daylight saving time, the clock is moved forward at 2 a.m. local time Sunday, March 13, to 3 a.m.
Other online features all with free access will include BASSCam video reports, extensive photo galleries and daily stories and standings.
The winner of the Sunshine Showdown will take the lead in a revamped Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race. After eight regular-season events, the Angler of the Year will be the pro with the most points and will claim the top AOY payout of $100,000. Then the top 8 in points, in addition to four "wild card" competitors from the Bassmaster Elite Series lineup voted on by fans at Bassmaster.com, will move on to the Toyota Trucks All-Star Week in Alabama to compete again for $100,000 in a two-event, winner-take-all format.
Less than a week after the conclusion of the Sunshine Showdown, the Elite Series field will compete out of Palatka, Fla., in the March 17-20 Citrus Slam on the St. Johns River.
2011 Bassmaster Elite Series Official Sponsors: Toyota, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha
2011 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Lowrance, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Ramada