Ish Monroe of Oakdale, Calif., is among the field of 175 anglers who will fish all nine of the 2023 St. Croix Bassmaster Opens in an attempt to qualify for the Elite Series via the new Opens EQ format.
Photo by B.A.S.S.
December 9, 2022
Bassmaster Opens Elite Qualifiers Division Has Mix Of Veteran Stars, Young Heavyweights
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — For the past several years, the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens have been incredibly popular, as the competition to earn a spot on the Bassmaster Elite Series has become more intense than ever.
Now, the Opens will feature the added intrigue of a trail within the trail — and some of the biggest names in bass fishing will make up that field.
The Opens Elite Qualifiers division will consist of 175 anglers who’ve signed up to fish all nine events on the 2023 schedule. Though Opens tournament winners will still earn a berth into the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, only those in the EQs division — the ones who fish all nine events — will be eligible to qualify for one of nine coveted invitations to fish the Elite Series.
Veteran California pro Ish Monroe — one of the giants of the sport who is returning to B.A.S.S. after several years away — hopes to achieve an Elite invitation while swinging nine times for his 11th career Classic berth.
“I’m gonna fish every tournament to try to win,” said Monroe, who has one previous Bassmaster Opens victory in addition to four Elite Series wins. “My dream is to win the Classic, and you can’t win the Classic if you’re not in it. I feel like, if I go out and fish to win every event — even if I don’t win — I’m still going to fall in that check range. If I fall in that check range at every event, I qualify for the Elites.”
Another superstar of professional bass fishing who has joined the Opens EQs field is Florida veteran Bobby Lane, a two-time winner with B.A.S.S., a 12-time Classic qualifier and the reigning Redcrest champion.
Like Monroe, Lane has publicly stated that his goal is to not only requalify for the Elites after several years away but to win a Classic title like his brother, Chris, did in 2012. Lane has four Top 10 Classic finishes, including a second-place showing in the 2015 event at Lake Hartwell.
Joining the seasoned veterans will be a long list of talented up-and-comers with true star potential, including former Bassmaster High School All-American and college superstar Logan Parks, former College Classic Bracket winner and High School All-American Trevor McKinney and Louis Monetti, part of this year’s Bassmaster College Team of the Year and winner of the 2022 College Classic Bracket presented by Lew’s.
Monroe said the field will be formidable, but he’s glad to see the Bassmaster Opens make the format switch, requiring anglers to fish all nine events to qualify for the Elites instead of just three in one part of the country.
“It’s an avenue to the Classic; it’s an avenue to the Elites; it’s a lot of different things,” he said. “I’ve got so many mixed, good emotions about the EQs. I love that you have to fish all nine now to qualify because it takes that regional guy who is phenomenal in his region and forces him to travel. It forces him to be good enough to actually be on the Elite Series.
“The Elites [are] the top level of bass fishing. It’s the deal. You have a hundred guys who are good everywhere they go — and to be thrown into that, you have to be better than just good in your region. You have to be good everywhere.”
B.A.S.S. Executive Director of Tournaments Hank Weldon, who oversees the Opens trail, was thrilled with the overwhelming response to the EQs format — the 175 anglers who signed up this year more than double the number who fished all nine events last year.
He says he’s anxious to get started with the new season.
“I was already looking forward to the new year, just because I feel like we have one of the best schedules we’ve had in a long time,” Weldon said. “But now you throw in the format change and all of the people who are so excited to take part in the EQs; I absolutely can’t wait.”