By Sam Rutherford
Bass fishing’s world championship event is coming in June, and 9 of the 54 qualifiers will represent Skeeter Boats and fish from their Texas-made tournament rigs. The 2021 Bassmaster Classic® is June 11-13 in Fort Worth, Texas, with the competition at Lake Ray Roberts.
Two of the qualifiers, Cody Bird and Chris Zaldain, are from Texas and live near the Classic fishery. Bird, from Granbury, and Zaldain, from Fort Worth, will be early favorites to win the $300,000 first-place prize while also becoming part of an elite group to have won a Classic title.
“I’m trying not to claim the home-lake thing because I don’t want that home-lake curse,” said Zaldain. “Now that we’re 45 minutes away, essentially, it’s my home lake, but I’m not that familiar with it. I don’t even know the names of the arms. And I want to keep it that way. I want it to be fresh.”
Here is a look at the anglers and how they qualified for the Classic.
Bird has fished in 62 B.A.S.S.® events since 2000 and has been close to
victory a number of times. At age 58, he finally sealed the deal by winning
the 2020 Bassmaster® Central Open at Neely Henry Lake in Alabama. The
former bull rider will be competing in his first Classic in June.
Canterbury, of Odenville, Al, joined the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2019
and won the coveted Bassmaster Angler of the Year title that year. Known
for his consistency, Canterbury has earned a check-in 28 of 28 B.A.S.S.
events, including 16 Top 20 finishes. He will be fishing his second
Cook, from Midway, FL., is fishing his third season on the Elite Series. He
won the 2019 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year title and finished 7th in the
points race for the Classic. While enrolled at Florida State University, he
competed on the fishing team, which allowed him to hone his competitive
skills. He did well, quickly qualifying through the Bassmaster Opens for
the Elite Series in 2018. He will be competing in his second consecutive
Herren, of Ashville, Al, is the veteran of the Skeeter team. Herren has
fished the pro ranks for 18 years, with 11 of those in the Elite Series. He
won the 2016 Toyota® Texas Bass Classic on Ray Roberts, with that past
history making him a threat to win in June. Herren has competed in 140
B.A.S.S. events since 1994, including 8 Classics. He is nearing $1 million
in earnings, boosted by a remarkable 98 times in the money.
Ito, from Japan, had a remarkable rookie season on the 2020 Elite Series
that fulfilled a childhood dream of qualifying for a Classic. First, he
qualified for the Elite Series in his rookie season, nearly winning the
points race, and has finished 12 out of 14 times in the money. Before
coming to America, Ito had never caught a smallmouth bass. A string of
events in New York last season allowed him to hone his skills so well that
Ito competed in three consecutive Top 12 championship rounds.
LeHew, of Catawba, N.C., is fishing his second consecutive Classic. LeHew
belongs to the new generation of Elite Series anglers who polished their
skills in the college ranks. LeHew fished on the University of North
Carolina, Charlotte fishing team, doing so well that he joined the pro
ranks and quickly earned over $328,000, including competing in four FLW®
Championships. LeHew stayed on a roll, earning a check-in 21 of 21 B.A.S.S.
events fished so far.
Palaniuk, of Rathdrum, ID, is one of the most decorated members of the
Skeeter team. Palaniuk came up through the bass club ranks and won the 2010
B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, qualifying him for the first of 9 Classics.
After ten years on the tour, Palaniuk has earned five Elite Series wins and
the 2017 Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. With 80 times in the money,
Palaniuk has amassed $1.4 million in B.A.S.S. earnings.
To say 2020 was a remarkable year for Pat Schlapper is an understatement.
Schlapper, of Eleva, WI, signed up for the Bassmaster Opens with the intent
of eventually punching his ticket to the Elite Series. Schlapper never
expected to do it in his first season, but he did. Also a bass club angler,
he won the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, also double
qualifying for the Elite Series. The win also came with a Classic berth.
Sylvester, 29, finished second in the TNT Fireworks® B.A.S.S. Nation
Championship after leading the first two days of competition. The club
angler from Plaquemine, LA, earned a berth in the Classic in his first
season of fishing the B.A.S.S. Nation ranks.
A native Californian, Zaldain made a move east by fishing the 2011 Bassmaster Opens. After winning the points race in his division, Zaldain punched his Elite Ticket that year. Zaldain has cashed a check-in 76 of 105 events, and he will be competing in his sixth Classic.
“The number six in front of that date, that means the fish are off the bank,” said Zaldain. “On a place like Ray Roberts, there are so many shallow targets, so much standing timber in pockets and points. And those trees are thick enough to provide shade for 7- or 8-pounders.”
That’s a promising outlook for the first summertime Classic since 2005.
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