Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 10/03/2018

Story and photos by Matt Pangrac

Tulsa, OK – James Elam doesn’t hesitate to admit that the time leading into the Toyota Angler Of the Year Championship on Lake Chatuge was a whirlwind. With an invite to the MLF Bass Pro Tour for 2019 in his back pocket,  the Oklahoma pro had to find a way to block out the distraction of the future and focus on qualifying for the fourth Bassmaster Classic of his career.  

“It was a crazy two-week period before that event.” he allowed.  “I knew that some major things were going to happen in between then and the tournament, so I just tried to block it all out and focus on fishing,” said Elam, who recognized the fact that he needed a top 31 finish on Chatuge to qualify for the 2019 Bassmaster Classic through the 2018 Elite Series Toyota Angler Of the Year points.  

 He did much better than the necessary 31st place finish, leading the three-day tournament wire-to-wire on his way to his first Elite Series title.  Along with the 2019 Classic qualification, Elam earned $20,000 in TAOY money, $25,000 for the win, and an elusive blue trophy.   While the cash was nice, it was the trophy and the title that Elam appreciated the most.    

“When the rumors started swirling earlier this year about a new tour starting up, it started weighing on me that I had never won an Elite Series tournament,” explained Elam.  “With every tournament that passed, I knew that time was ticking down to get one of these trophies fishing against such a talented group of anglers on the Elite Series.”

In August, he watched his good friend and travel partner, Josh Bertrand, win the Elite Series stop on the St. Lawrence River.  “It was such an awesome thing to watch Josh win, and seeing how much it meant to him made me want to win one even more fishing against this group of anglers.”

After practice at the TAOY Championship on Chatuge, Elam knew that he would most likely be in the mix for the tournament title.  Late summer is Elam’s favorite time to fish, and the offshore bite at Chatuge fell right into his wheelhouse.  He ended up with a three-day total weight of 48 pounds, 8 ounces and won by nearly 4 pounds.  

While Bassmaster Elite Series anglers will continue to win titles and lift trophies, the blue trophy that Elam lifted over his head on Sunday at Chatuge was the last Elite Series trophy that will ever be won fishing against what many called the most talented field in history.

In the weeks following the TAOY Championship, over 65 Elite Series anglers chose to leave B.A.S.S. and accept invitations to fish the newly formed MLF Bass Pro Tour in 2019.  “It’s kind of a historic trophy,” said Elam. “I know that I’ll be fishing against a lot of the same guys on the MLF Bass Pro Tour, but there’s still a lot of history with the Elite Series and this group of guys.” 

The Bass Pro Tour
Following the win on Chatuge that took care of what Elam called “unfinished business”, he put on his business hat and immediately began focusing on his future as a professional angler.  “Sometimes you have to take chances because you don’t want to get behind the curve,” he explained.  “I worked so hard to reach a comfort level in my career, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices to better the sport.”  

On Friday, September 28th, Elam posted on his social media platforms that he was making the move to the MLF Bass Pro Tour in 2019.  Part of his announcement included the following:

“Hopefully some of the positive changes that we are seeing happen in the sport will help out the young aspiring anglers like myself. I’ve had a lot of great times and great memories fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series for the last 6 years that I will never forget.  I’ve learned a lot about life and a lot about myself in that time.  I’m thankful for the platform they provided me to compete on.”

Like many Elite Series anglers who have recently announced the move to MLF have already opined, the decision was not a hasty or easy one to make.   Elam said that he had deep conversations with his “group of buddies” that he traveled with on the Elite Series.   

“We all sat around and took everything into account” Elam explained.  “We bounced ideas off of each other and really had some deep conversations.  Talking with fellow anglers really helped, because it’s hard to talk about this whole scenario with someone who doesn’t do this for a living day in and day out.”  

While all but six of the Elite Series pros invited to fish the MLF BPT accepted the invitation for 2019, Elam was quick to point out that, from his perspective, the reasoning behind the mass exodus from B.A.S.S. to MLF was different for every single angler.  

“There are old guys, young guys, guys who are struggling, successful guys…it’s all over the map.  While the decision to fish MLF next year may be the same decision, the process and reasoning behind making the decision was different for every angler.  For me, it was important to take emotion out of the decision and focus on what was best for my family, my sponsors, my business, and the future of the sport.”  

Moving forward, Elam said that he’s reinvigorated heading into the 2019 season.  “Last year, I was burnt out after the season was over.  I put my rods down after the Angler Of the Year tournament and I didn’t touch them for two months.  This year, it feels like I’m a rookie all over again.  I’m already in high-gear preparing for the start of the 2019 season.”

Included in his 2019 schedule is his last Bassmaster Classic in the foreseeable future.  “I’m treating this Classic just like I treated the TAOY Championship,” he explained.  “I’m going to focus strictly on the fishing and trying to win.  I know the rest of the field will approach it the same way.”