The Bassmaster Tournament Trail has visited Lake St. Clair six times since the early 1990s, including twice for high-stakes Elite Series events.
But the stakes have never been higher than they'll be when the trail returns to the massive 275,000-acre fishery in late September.
B.A.S.S. officials announced today that Lake St. Clair will serve as the host venue for the 2019 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Sept. 26-29. The tournament, which carries a whopping $1 million total purse, will decide the 2019 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year winner, the 2019 DICK'S Sporting Goods Rookie of the Year and the bulk of the lineup for the 2020 Bassmaster Classic.
"B.A.S.S. has had some great events at Lake St. Clair, and the people there have always been enthusiastic and supportive fans," said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin. "This has already been one of the most exciting years we've ever had on the Bassmaster Elite Series, and I can't think of a better place for it to end than on a great smallmouth fishery like St. Clair."
The hosts for the event will be the County of Macomb and the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry. Takeoffs and weigh-ins will be held at Lake St. Clair Metropark - and they'll once again feature the party atmosphere that fans have come to expect from the Elite Series' season-ending celebration.
Anglers will compete Thursday and Friday, Sept. 26-27, and then have an off-day built around interaction with fishing fans on Saturday, and conclude the championship on Sunday. Saturday's activities will include an Outdoors Expo with merchandise, food and drink vendors and sponsor activations and promotions. Elite anglers will provide seminars revealing their best bass fishing techniques, and they'll be available to sign autographs, mingle with fans and talk fishing.
"Between now and the 2020 Bassmaster Classic, B.A.S.S. is celebrating the 'Year of the Fan,'" Akin said. "We'll be doing special things to show appreciation for our fans throughout that time, and we'll certainly be doing plenty during the AOY Championship.
"Obviously, the tournament and the crowning of a new AOY champion will be the main attraction at Lake St. Clair. But there will also be a festival with music, barbecue and fun things for everyone who attends."
Anglers will be allowed to fish Lake St. Clair and all rivers, creeks and canals connected to the lake. Anglers will not be allowed to travel south of the Ambassador Bridge Highway 3 in the Detroit River or north of the I-94 bridges in the St. Clair and Black rivers, according to B.A.S.S. Tournament Director Trip Weldon.
The AOY standings change throughout the season, with anglers earning points each time they fish a regular-season Bassmaster Elite Series event. Only the Top 50 from the 75-angler Elite Series field will qualify for the AOY Championship, where they'll have a chance to win the 50th AOY title ever awarded by B.A.S.S. and the $100,000 paycheck that goes with it.
The history of the award dates back to 1970 when the first AOY trophy was won by bass fishing superstar Bill Dance. Since then, legends of the sport like Jimmy Houston, Hank Parker, Davy Hite, Rick Clunn and Roland Martin have all earned the title. Martin won the crown an amazing nine times.
Canadian pro Chris Johnston grabbed the early lead in this year's AOY standings after finishing second in the Elite Series opener on the St. Johns River in Florida and 10th in the event that followed at Georgia's Lake Lanier. With a points total of 190, Johnston is followed in the standings by Scott Canterbury of Alabama (182), Lee Livesay of Texas (181) and Patrick Walters of South Carolina (176).
Walters said the AOY title is something every bass fisherman dreams about.
"This is my first season on the Elite Series - and from the moment I knew I was going to be fishing here, my goal was to win AOY," Walters said. "That's it. It doesn't get any better than that in bass fishing. If I win Angler of the Year, the Rookie of the Year title will take care of itself."
In addition to deciding the various season championship races and 39 berths for the Classic, the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship will award $25,000 and an Elite Series trophy to the angler who has the heaviest total weight for the three-day competition.
"The Bassmaster Elite Series is a year-long race to determine the best bass angler on tour," Akin said. "Fans can witness the culmination of all that at the AOY Championship."
B.A.S.S. also announced the dates of its first-ever "makeup tournament," which will only take place if one of the nine regular-season Elite events has to be canceled this year. In the event that might happen, anglers, staff, sponsors and others have been asked to set aside the weekend prior to AOY - Sept. 19-22 - to make up any canceled tournament.