CELEBRATION, Fla. The closing of the CITGO Bassmaster Central Open on the Red River in Louisiana last week finalized another batch of anglers advancing to the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship.
The top 25 boaters and non-boaters in the Central Open points standings advance to the championship, set for Dec. 1-4 on the Alabama River in Prattville, Ala. The pros are competing to be one of five anglers who move on to fish the CITGO Bassmaster Classic on Lake Tohopekaliga, Feb. 24-26.
"It's my only shot at the Classic and I'd sure like to fish on Lake Toho in February," said Ben Matsubu of Hemphill, Texas, who made the cut.
The CITGO Bassmaster Opens are divided into four divisions, Central, Northern, Southern and Western. Each division has three tournaments and points are awarded based on an angler's performance. The 25 anglers with the most points on both the boater and non-boater side are invited to the championship. In the Western division, only 15 anglers are invited. BASS is retiring the Opens next year and instead offering the CITGO Bassmaster Tour. The former Tour is being replaced by the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series and is reserved for the world's top anglers.
Oklahoma's Jeff Kreit, a 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series angler, was leading the Central Open points standings before the last Central Open on Red River but fell to second behind David Wharton of Sam Rayburn, Texas. Though Kreit's already earned his berth into the Classic with his performance on the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Tour, he's still looking for a challenge on the Alabama River. "I have no idea what it's going to look like out there," he said, "but I am looking forward to it."
Missing from the championship action is Bradley Stringer of Huntington, Texas, last year's Open Championship winner. In 26th place in the points standings, he just missed the cut. 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series angler and former Classic champion Takahiro Omori edged Stringer after fishing just two of the three Central Opens. He was leading the Red River tournament after Day 2 and came in third to Sean Hoernke of Magnolia, Texas. Like Stringer, Hoernke also will not advance to the championship.
"I didn't dream of making the championship with just fishing two tournaments," said Omori. "It's hard to catch up, but I suppose I did well."
Ironically, non-boater points leader Rusty Harvey of Nederland, Texas, entered the Central Open division on a whim. A friend called and asked him to fish the first event, offering to pay his entry fee. Harvey obliged, placed 9th in the Sam Rayburn event and went on to fish the other two events. "I'm hoping for a first-place finish in Alabama," said Harvey, 51. "At the beginning, I had nothing to lose and it really worked out for me."
Anglers who fished the Northern Open division have already been chosen for the championship, but the top 25 anglers from the Southern Open division and 15 anglers from the Western division still have not been finalized. Both divisions have their final tournament this weekend, Nov. 17-19. The Western Open is on Shasta Lake in Shasta, Calif., and the Southern Open is on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla., also site of the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic in February.