The best 110 bass fishermen in the world will hit Barnett Reservoir in Ridgeland April 27-30, casting for big fish and a $100,000 top prize in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite Series tournament.
Included in the field will be three pro anglers who have won major events on the 33,000-acre lake, which has a storied history with the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS) and its various Bassmaster tours.
Mike McClelland of Bella Vista, Ark., won a Bassmaster Central Invitational on Barnett in December of 1996; Randall Tharp of Port St. Joe, Fla., won a Bassmaster Central Open in October of 2013; and, Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo., won an FLW event on Barnett in February of 1997.
The field will include several former Bassmaster Classic champions, BASS Angler of the Year winners and most of the sport’s ranking prize money earners, but despite a long history of Bassmaster tournaments on the lake, many will be competing on Barnett Reservoir for the first time.
BASS has held 11 previous events on the 52-year-old reservoir, dominated in the late 60s and early 70s by Bill Dance and Roland Martin, who turned Bassmaster successes into lucrative TV careers.
In 1977, BASS’ biggest event, the Bassmaster Classic, was held on the lake.
Barnett played an historical role in the birth of tournament bass fishing and BASS. Salesman Ray Scott of Montgomery, Ala., came to Jackson in 1967 on a combination business/fishing trip with some local friends.
“Barnett was new then and red hot, like one of the best places in the world to go,” he said. “But that trip, the weather was awful and the fishing was cancelled. It rained all day so I went back to my hotel over on Highway 80 in Jackson and tried to do some work and maybe get a nap.
“It was there, lying in that bed, maybe half dreaming, that I thought of forming a grass-roots type fishing organization and holding bass tournaments. I called my Jackson fishing friends, told them of my brainstorm and they liked it. You can say that Barnett Reservoir and the Jackson area is where the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society started.”
Scott’s dream turned into a lucrative career and transformed fishing from a pastime into a tournament-driven industry.
BASS is reviving its relationship with Barnett Reservoir. After the Classic in 1977, BASS didn’t return to the lake for nearly two decades. The organization held two events in the mid 90s and two in the last three years.
This will be the first Elite Series event in the State of Mississippi. The Elite Series, which started in 2006, is the top rung of BASS’ tournament levels. Pros have to fish their way onto the Elite Series and then have to fish well enough to retain their Elite status. All 110 fishermen will fish the first two days, but only the top 50 will advance to Saturday’s third round. Only the top 12 will advance to Sunday’s final round.
Mississippi will have three residents in the field, former Bassmaster Classic champions Paul Elias of Laurel and Cliff Pace of Petal, and second-year Elite Series pro Brock Mosley of Collinsville.
Hosted locally by the Ridgeland Tourism Commission, Visit Mississippi and the Barnett Reservoir Foundation, the event will feature an Outdoor Expo at the Rez sponsored by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks on Saturday and Sunday.
The Outdoor Expo at the Rez sponsored by the MDWFP will include many hands-on events for children including archery and BB ranges, disc and putt-putt golf and live exhibits from the Museum of Natural Science. The agency will also have many of its vehicles on site, a license and information booth and more.
The Expo will include live music on the Jackson Ready-Mix sound stage, featuring acts before and after the weigh-in on Saturday and before the weigh-in on Sunday. The park will have food and beverage vendors.
In addition, most of the Elite Series’ national sponsors will have exhibits in the BASS Sponsor Village.
For more information on events involving the Elite Series tournament, the Outdoor Expo at the Rez, visit barnettreservoirfoundation.org or mdwfp.com. For more information on opportunities in Ridgeland, see VisitRidgeland.com.