Bridgford Foods AOY and B.A.S.S. Nation Championship qualifiers in the making

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Three anglers on their path to the prize

BY JODY ONLY

New for 2024, the WON BASS tournament series, established in 1982, has evolved into the WON Bass Tour with the circuit’s finale at the prestigious U.S. Open held at its new home on Lake Mohave. With the Shasta, Clear Lake and Havasu stops in the rearview, the circuit is just past its mid-point event, with only Mead and Mohave remaining as the excitement for the $10,000 Bridgford Angler of the Year (AOY) honor grows.

A Circuit to Highlight Fishing Diversity

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Joe Mariani of Winters, Calif. currently sits in the second-place position for the AOY points race and feels the next two events at Mead and Mohave will be the most interesting for him.

“I’ve felt really comfortable at all the lakes so far,” he stated. “Havasu suited my fishing style, Clear Lake is my home lake and Shasta fishes a lot like those, so they’ve been in my wheelhouse, but the next two are wild cards.”

Making his way from Texas to compete, former Elite Series pro Kurt Dove of Del Rio, wrapped up Havasu, securing the sixth-place spot in the Bridgford AOY standings. A newbie to Lake Shasta, Dove traveled to NorCal for the WON Bass Tour kick-off at the fishery and loved the experience.

“As my first time there, it was awesome – catching spots like that,” he said. “I finished middle of the pack, but the amount of bites you can get on that lake is incredible. I learned how to get better bites every day and increase my weight, and that was a fun learning experience.”

Another former Elite Series pro Randy Pierson of Oakdale, Calif. rounds out the top-10 for the Bridgford Foods AOY race after the Havasu event and as a touring angler he was drawn to all of diversity of the fisheries.

RANDY PIERSON is in 10th place
but remains very much in the Angler
of the Year conversation.

“I looked at the schedule this year and loved it,” he said. “I thought I would do the best at Shasta, and it is where I did the worst. Mead and Mohave – I love both of them. Crazy enough I don’t fish the desert lakes that much, but I love fishing them when I do. Havasu is one of my favorite lakes.”

Desert Lakes In The Dog Days Of Summer On The Horizon

With his self-described “wild card” events ahead, Mariani has cemented no specific strategies for the remaining stops at Mead and Mohave.

“I will just go and LiveScope – I’m really good at that,” he said. “I’ve been smallmouth fishing in New York with friends that fish the MLF Pro tour and that will translate into some experience. I’ve never been to the U.S. Open; so, I’ve put zero-planning in; but fishing in the heat is not a problem for me and sometimes it turns on the bite.”

Dove is enjoying the varied venues that the WON Bass Tour offers and is definitely looking forward to a chance to make history as a U.S. Open champion.

“The fisheries are everything from a highland reservoir to a natural lake, a constant desert level lake and lowland lakes and that all plays to the techniques and strengths of a well-rounded angler as opposed to regional dominance,” he said. “I love all the differences in the fisheries and even though what’s left (Mead and Mohave) are similar, they are different seasons of year and that will make for different strategies.

CURT DOVE is sitting in sixth in the
Brigford AOY standings, and he’s
hungry for a U.S. Open title.

“I have had a top-5 at the U.S. Open when it was at Mead, but Mead is ginormous and Mohave doesn’t fish quite as big as Mead, so it will be a whole new ballgame. Historically, if you’re fishing the U.S. Open, there is always the chance to put your name on the prestigious title; so, I have my fingers crossed for a successful event.”

Knowing, he was down for the entire tour as it was announced, Pierson started his prep at the end of 2023.

“I purposely did the U.S. Open last year because I knew it was going to be at Havasu again and I knew I was going to be fishing all five events, so I used it as a practice for this year,” he shared. “With that many boats for the U.S. Open you really need to have a good point separation, because when there are 200 anglers against you, the points can shuffle a lot. I want to gain some more points at Mead, so I can fish Mohave a little more comfortable.”

Although Peirson did work in 2023 and time on the water at both desert lakes already, he hasn’t locked in a specific pattern that he will start practice with; but has a few techniques in mind.

“You never know how a body of water will fish until you get there, but I suspect they (Mead and Mohave) will fish similar with maybe a drop-shot or a topwater or a jig,” he said. “I do know, even with the time of year, the heat won’t bother me. I would rather fish in heat than cold any day. I just make sure I stay well-hydrated.”

Fishing For The Pot Of Gold

Already secured as a B.A.S.S. Nation Championship qualifier through his finish at the Clear Lake Open, Mariani is excited about the potential for a chance at the Bassmaster Classic down the road.

“It’s the coolest thing you can do as an angler,” he exclaimed.

He is unsure if he would jump in the boat for the EQs; however, if he earned a slot into the Elites, he would burn rubber on his way.

“The whole thing that WON Bass has put together for us this year is great to continue to grow the West Coast,” Mariani said. “I feel like no one else is doing anything like this right now and it’s super awesome!”

JOE MARIANI is in second place in
the AOY points race and considers
the next two events “wild cards.”

Dove was also one of the top-five finishers at the Clear Lake Open solidifying himself as a B.A.S.S. Nation Championship qualifier and while the EQs are not on his radar at this time, he would consider shooting his shot at the Elites, one more time.

“I appreciate my position and don’t take it for granted,” Dove said. “I have had a couple good tournaments and hope to compete well and put pressure on those excellent skilled anglers that have also made their way in.

Also a fan of the new WON BASS Tour format, and the long-established shared-weight, the draw-partner team pairings is what drives Dove to compete in the western circuit.

“At this point in my career, my goal is to fish stuff that’s fun,” he said. “WON Bass is really putting out a series that is fun, and while having an exciting payback.

“The buy-in to payout ratio is significantly different than many of the others, particularly with a top-10 finish, and the recognition has a great impact for sponsors and your pocket. Even coming from Texas, I’ve already covered all my entries and expenses and that is attributed to the WON payback.”

Dove’s appreciation for the camaraderie of the shared-weight teams continued.

“Established pros understand how to incorporate a AAA to work together and be a part of a successful team,” he said. “With WON Bass, you get to be on a different team every day and meet a lot of people. It is just a fun way to fish.”

As a former Elite Series pro, Pierson would be interested in an Elite berth reboot should the path lead him to the opportunity and would reinvest winnings such as the $10,000 Bridgford Foods AOY prize purse back into his fishing career.

“I’m a longshot from the AOY; because the first few guys have a pretty good lead; but I really like the format that WON gave us this year and the fact that they are drawing a lot of boats is encouraging,” he said. “I think this option for the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship and the shared-weight really help with boat draw.

“Where I am at, I want to have more fun fishing tournaments and not be under so much stress and the shared-weights tournaments are a lot more fun than the separate weight, just because you get to work together as a team. WON Bass tournaments are really about the fun and I’m looking forward to going out, going fishing and having fun. With this format, I’m having a lot more fun fishing and competing and making new friends that I draw.”

Fun aside, Pierson, like the others, does have his eyes on the prize.

“If things work out, they work out, but my ultimate goal is to get to the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship because I know when you get there anything can happen and if I get there, there is the chance to get back to the Bassmaster Classic,” he said. “First, I’ve got to get the Championship but once I am there, like I said, anything can happen, and I would love to fish the Bassmaster Classic again. It’s the most amazing experience ever and WON has given us a way to get there.”

 

On The Line

The Bridgford Foods Angler-of-the-Year first place pro prize will receive $10,000 in cash presented by Bridgford Foods. The 2nd place pro will receive a set of Power-Poles and a charger valued at $5,000. The 3rd place pro will take home a 12” Lowrance HDS Pro with Active Target, also valued at $5,000.

WON Bass hasn’t left out the AAAs in the prize packages. The 1st place AAA finisher in the points standings will fish for free with all entries into the 2025 WON Bass events paid. The runner-up will get three free entries and the 3rd place position earns two free entries.

In their newly formed partnership for the 2024 season, WON along with B.A.S.S. will grant the top five anglers in the Bridgford Foods AOY standings berths into the 2025 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. Three angers from the 2025 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship will each earn a golden ticket into the 2025 Bassmaster Classic.

Additionally, the top five pros in the AOY standings will receive priority entry codes into the 2025 St. Croix Bassmaster Open EQs for a guaranteed position into all nine Bassmaster Opens for a chance to qualify for the 2026 Bassmaster Elite Series.

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