That’s almost certainly the case at the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open #3. Though nearly every pro competing this week on Smith Lake in north-central Alabama seeks one of the few remaining spots in the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic fishing field, the harsh reality is that the dance card is nearly full.
But a win on Smith Lake means one more pro will fish South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell in next year’s Classic, provided he’s competed in the other two Southern Open events this season. Those earlier tournaments were won by Alabama’s Jesse Wiggins and Florida’s John Cox, and those men are competing here again this week, and it’s a safe bet they would love nothing more than to win yet again and consequently ruin someone else’s shot at glory.
That puts the pressure squarely on the other 177 pros fishing in the final Bassmaster Southern Open of the season. They’ll go all out on this 21,000-acre reservoir with not only a Classic berth on the line, but also a Skeeter ZX200 and Yamaha SHO 200 boat/motor package going to the winner.
That type of hungry competition could cause ripples throughout this year’s Southern Open standings and certainly into next year’s Bassmaster Elite Series field.
The top five pros after Southern Open #3 is complete will qualify for a spot in the 2018 Elite Series. Heading into the tournament on Smith Lake, they were: first, Hunter Shryock, 396 points; second, Cox, 391; third, Justin Lucas, 387; fourth, Marty Robinson, 380; and fifth, Bill Weidler, 370.
So not only is there pressure on that quintet to fish well on Smith Lake, but the heat also is on the guys immediately behind them who have a very real chance of moving into the top five with a good showing in the final Southern Open of 2017.
Of note is Ish Monroe, who entered the Smith Lake tournament sixth in the Southern Open standings (only nine points behind Weidler). Monroe nearly earned an outright berth in the Classic last week when he finished second to Jacob Powroznik in the Bassmaster Classic Bracket in Minnesota.
There are other pros with a wealth of career experience who also can gain ground in the Southern Open with a top-flight showing at Smith, anglers like Scott Martin, Shaw Grigsby Jr., Greg Vinson, Rick Morris and Russ Lane, to name a few.
Those guys may be household names for bass fishing fans, but there’s an even bigger group of guys looking to add to their portfolios with a Top 12 or a win on Smith Lake. Either one could vault them to truly big things.
When Saturday is complete and the weigh-in stage is broken down, the picture will be much clearer. But for now, the anglers (as well as bass fishing followers around the world) are in suspense of what’s to come.
Bassmaster Southern Open No. 3 began Thursday with takeoff at 6:30 a.m. at Smith Lake Dam Access, 7482 Smith Lake Dam Road, in Jasper. The weigh-in will begin at 2:30 p.m. and both times will remain the same on Friday. On Saturday, launch time and location is the same, but the weigh-in will begin at 3:45 p.m. at the Bass Pro Shops location at 5000 Bass Pro Road in Leeds, Ala.
The tournament is hosted by Walker County (Ala.) Chamber of Commerce.