By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Stephen Browning will find himself in a catch-22 situation if he becomes one of the 30 anglers to qualify for the Heavy Hitters event that was added this week to the 2020 MLF Bass Pro Tour schedule.
"The only bad thing about it is they put it right on top of my son's high school graduation," said the veteran pro from Arkansas who finished 22nd on the points list in the BPT's inaugural season this year. "If I don't make it, I won't be too disappointed. If I do make it, I'll go fish for some good cash against a very limited field.
"That's crazy money for an event of that size."
Heavy hitters will take place May 16-20 at Florida's Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. The field will consist of the 30 anglers with the highest combined weight of their single biggest fish from each of the first five BPT tournaments.
Those five derbies will take place on big-fish venues Lake Eufaula (Alabama) and Lake Okeechobee (Florida) in February, Lake Fork (Texas) in March, and Jordan Lake/Falls Lake/Shearon Harris Reservoir (North Carolina) and Grand Lake (Oklahoma) in April.
The total prize pool will be nearly $750,000, with $100,000 to both the winner of the event and the competitor who catches the largest fish on the final day. All qualifiers will garner at least $6,000.
How Big of an Incentive?
Browning, who garnered daily big-bass honors on multiple occasions this past season despite not having a reputation as a hawg-slayer, said the potential for qualifying for Heavy Hitters won't alter his approach to the first half of the upcoming campaign. However, it could provide a chance to salvage something from a tournament in which an angler finds himself far below the initial cut line and set to drive home empty-handed.
Fred Roumbanis says the Heavy Hitters event is "right up my alley."
"Guys who aren't really on a whole lot, when they hit the Elimination Round they might just say the heck with it when their odds of making the cut are slim to none and go fish for one giant. That way, something good could still come out of it."
Alton Jones agreed with that assessment.
"I can't say that it won't change my strategy at some of the early events," he said. "Instead of focusing on cuts and numbers, it might be worth missing a cut to qualify for that, although ideally you'd be thinking that you could catch the big one and make the cut anyway.
"Do you go catch five 2-pounders or sit on one 11-pounder on a bed. There's going to be big-fish opportunities that everybody's going to have a shot at no matter what their standing is in that event."
More Initial Thoughts
Following are perspectives about Heavy Hitters from some other BPT anglers.
> Fred Roumbanis "It's like making a championship event and everybody's going to want to catch a big fish at every event, one way or the other. It's right up my alley. I think it's going to be good or the lure sponsors too because people are going to want to know what those fish were caught on.
"I know at Chickamauga this year, I caught a 6-pounder off bed and it was the male; the female was a 12. I bailed on here because it was taking too much time. Now with this deal and the incentive of the huge payout, I'd probably have to stay with that fish until I caught it."
> Greg Hackney "I'm a huge fan of more opportunities to make money with no entry fees. It's the greatest thing to happen to the sport and I don't care what anybody says.
"It's going to take some big weight to qualify for this thing. Those first five are big-fish fisheries and we're going to hit them in prime time. I think you're going to need at least a 5-pound average because I expect to see some 10-pounders caught."
> Ish Monroe "It's a big-fish format and I've caught a lot of big fish in my life. If I fish like I normally do, I should have a good opportunity to make Heavy Hitters.
"The schedule is set up a lot different this year and we're not going to these 1-pound places. Okeechobee is a prime example I was talking to (Mike Iaconelli and Fletcher Shryock) about it the other day and Fletcher asked about the schoolers. When you hit the right stretch and catch five fish for 35 pounds in an hour and a half, it takes a lot of 1-pound schoolers to keep up with that."
> Luke Clausen "It's going to be a cool, fun event, but it can be hard to target big fish like that. If you're targeting those fish, your opportunity to screw up is a lot greater I see more margin for error there. It wouldn't be surprising if the top 5 in the (Angler of the Year) points was almost the same as the Heavy Hitters standings. When you move down the list you'll probably see some outliers, but the guys who are catching them the best in general are probably going to be the guys catching the bigger ones the best.
"Basically, whoever adapts the best at that event is going to catch bigger fish and more numbers."
> James Elam "I haven't really sat down and tried to dial in on the format and really think about how I might approach it yet. But from a league standpoint, it's a good idea a wildcard event in the middle of the season that's like a bonus tournament. I think it's a neat experiment.
"It's something that's going to have to be taken into consideration because there's going to be quite a few 6-, 7- and 8-pounders caught in those events."
> Shaw Grigsby "I think it's pretty stinkin' cool just to acknowledge the big fish that are going to be caught in the early part of the season and everybody's going to want to catch some to make that event because it's big money. To add this in to the BPT, it's another step up.
"I don't know that anybody's going to fish any different, but if you know you're not competitive in an event you can at least swing for the fence and go for a big to give yourself a better shot at Heavy Hitters."