MONTGOMERY, Ala. - April 16, 2003 - Anglers competing in CITGO Bassmaster Open events presented by Busch Beer during the 2003 season will have the opportunity to fish in a new division and to qualify for a new event. BASS has announced plans to conduct four open series, including one in the western United States and, for the first time ever, an Open championship will be contested with top anglers from each of the divisions.

"We anticipate a great season in the CITGO Bassmaster Open series thanks to our new Open Championship and the return of the Western Opens," said Dean Kessel, Vice President and General Manager of BASS. "The west is full of great fisheries and talented anglers and we are eager to offer them an opportunity in our Open division once again."

2003 will also see the inaugural CITGO Bassmaster Open championship presented by Busch Beer, which will pit the top 20 boaters and non-boaters from each of the four divisions against one another. There will be no entry fees for the championship, whose site has not yet been determined. 

"As many as 13 anglers can now earn berths in the 2004 Classic though our Open series," said Trip Weldon, Tournament Director. "That's the top three from each of the four regions and the winner of the Open title should he or she not already be qualified."

Additionally, the top 15 anglers that advance to the Open championship from each division will earn the right to participate on the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Tour.

The Opens, which will take place in the Northern, Southern, Central and Western divisions in 2003, will visit several familiar sites and some new-to-BASS fisheries that will present challenges for anglers.

Northern division events will take place on the Potomac River near Waldorf, Md., Lake Erie in Buffalo, N.Y. and Oneida Lake near Syracuse, N.Y. BASS has visited the Potomac River 13 times, but has never visited Lakes Erie or Oneida.

Central division tournaments will be held on the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway in Columbus, Miss., Lake Sam Rayburn near Jasper, Texas and on the Ouachita River in Monroe/West Monroe, La. While Sam Rayburn will be hosting its record 27th event, the other two fisheries will be welcoming BASS for the first time.

While the Northern and Central divisions will visit four new fisheries between them, anglers in the south will see some familiar favorites with tournaments on Lake Wheeler in Decatur, Ala., Lake Okeechobee in Okeechobee City, Fla. and Lake Eufaula in Eufaula, Ala.

The Western division will visit the expansive Columbia River near Kennewick, Wash., Clear Lake in Clearlake, Calif. and Lake Havasu in Havasu City, Ariz. BASS has visited all of the fisheries previously. BASS visited Clearlake with a Tour event this season.

"We believe the combinations of fisheries in each division will offer anglers some good, but challenging fishing," added Weldon.

The three-day Open events will have a full field of 175 boats. The field will be cut to the top 50 boaters and non-boaters for the final day.

One enhancement for 2003 will be that entry priority for all non-boater division spots will be given to BASS Federation members. Any spots not filled by Federation members will continue to be filled by the traditional priority methods.

"This is another step by BASS to emphasis the importance of the BASS Federation," said BASS Federation Director Al Smith. "I hope that Federation members will take full advantage of this tremendous opportunity."

 For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375.