Southern Open finale to determine berths for 2011 Classic, Elite entries

Elite Series pro Bobby Lane is currently in second place in the Southern Open points standings and hopes to double-qualify for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic. Seigo Saito

Some of bass fishing's top guns will be aiming for the same two Bassmaster Classic seats in the Oct. 7-9 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open tournament on Lake Seminole out of Bainbridge, Ga.

As the season finale, the Seminole event will end the season-long points race to the Classic. Only two anglers will be left standing. They will win coveted qualifications for the 2011 Classic on the Louisiana Delta, Feb. 18-20 out of New Orleans. Those same top two, plus the next five best pros, will be invited into the Bassmaster Elite Series.

In the lead to claim the top prizes are South Carolina's Andy Montgomery with 550 points and Bassmaster Elite Series pro Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., who has 546 points.

Montgomery is well-known and successful in other major bass circuits. This is his first season for a full, three-event Southern Open season. Before that, his Bassmaster career history is a light read: three events, back in 2005 and 2006.

He got into the Opens to try for a Classic entry.

"That's my main goal — and after that, as far as the Elite Series goes, it's up in the air." Montgomery said.

Lane, on the other hand, is all set through the 2010 Elite Series for his fourth consecutive Classic and fourth year as an Elite pro. A Southern lakes expert, Lane is going for a second qualification because it would help fellow Elite pro Jared Lintner and because the schedule suits him well. Lintner, as next-up on the Elite points list, would get Lane's Elite-earned seat if Lane were to double-qualify. Lane would take his Classic qualification through the Opens.

"I'm in it because I love fishing, I love Seminole, and hopefully I can help get Jared into the Classic," Lane said.

To succeed in their Classic bids, Lane and Montgomery will have to shoot down all comers. First on that list is Randall Tharp of Alabama, behind Montgomery by 12 points and behind Lane by 8.

With 527 points, Ott Defoe of Tennessee is the next nearest challenger. Like Montgomery, Defoe is a hot stick on non-Bassmaster trails.

Just behind Defoe is Elite pro Davy Hite of South Carolina, a 13-time Classic qualifier since 1993, and Classic champ in 1999. That was the first time the Classic was held on the Louisiana Delta, and Hite no doubt would enjoy competing again on his field of victory.

As if the aforementioned pros would not be enough to keep the leaders watching their backs, also lurking close are David Kilgore (501 points), Jason Knapp (489) and Elite pro Terry Scroggins (481), who already cornered a 2011 Classic seat through the Elite Series.

Not to mention Pam Martin-Wells, who lives in Bainbridge, Ga., which makes Seminole her home lake. Martin-Wells was the second woman to qualify for a Classic, and the first woman to make the cut to compete the final day. She's way down in the points (78th), but a top tournament finish could drain points from a points leader.

Because the points-earnings potential at Seminole can hit 315, any other pro close to the top has a chance at grabbing the lead. (Click here for complete points standings.)

Montgomery has his work cut out for him. He said he doesn't know Seminole well. He competed there once, about five years ago, in the late winter.

"I fished it one day last week. Now I'm in Texas so I won't get but one or two days of practice in on Seminole," he said. "From what I know it will be pretty tough. There was a 40-boat tournament (recently), and 11 pounds won it. It always gets really tough in the fall."

He summed up the Open contest in one sentence: "It will be a grass tournament."

Say "grass" to Bobby Lane, and he gets happy. He's a Florida-bred angler, so grass sets up the game to his liking.

"I always feel comfortable fishing grass," he said. "It's enjoyable to me and gives me a lot of confidence. I always have a gut feeling something good is going to happen. And I hear they've been maintaining the grass on Seminole, so grass will come to play in a big way."

The full pro and co-angler fields will compete Thursday and Friday. Only the top 30 in both divisions will advance to Saturday for the finale. The Seminole tournament prize will be up to $45,000 to the winner (based on a full field of 175). The co-angler division winner will take home a fully rigged bass boat.

The Classic seats and Elite invitations will be awarded Saturday after the weigh-in.

Morning takeoff will be from Earle May Boat Basin,100 Boat Basin Circle, Bainbridge, GA 39817, at 7:30 a.m. ET. Anglers will return with their catches to the same marina for the weigh-in, scheduled to begin each day at 3:30 p.m. ET. Click here for more event details.

The event is free and open to the public. Bassmaster.com will provide daily results and photo galleries.

The local sponsor for the event is the Bainbridge Convention and Visitors Bureau, www.VisitBainbridgeGa.com.

Check out the official Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open points standings here.