The tournament will consist of the top four teams from the Bassmaster College National Championship, which will run July 19-21 on Lake Tenkiller in Cherokee County, Okla. Each angler will compete individually, and the winner of the Milford tournament will earn a spot in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic.
“The KBN is very excited by this announcement,” Kansas BASS Nation youth director Richard Heflin said. “To have a premier national level event held in Kansas means a chance for us to expose the country to our great resources. After talking with Travis Blenn from the K-State team, I know this will cause a lot of excitement for the participants, as well.”
As previously reported, Milford also will host another big Bassmaster College Series event this spring — the first-ever B.A.S.S. Kansas College State Championship, a qualifier for the national championship that is open to all Kansas college anglers and those from other states that don’t offer a state championship. That event will take place April 8.
“In my mind,” Heflin said about the state championship, “if you are a college student in Kansas or on a team in a state outside of Kansas who is not holding a college state championship tournament, why would you not come here to give it a shot? A shot that could land you in the event of every fisherperson’s dreams.”
With that said, the latest news means that, theoretically, a college angler from Kansas State, for example, could travel from Manhattan to Milford for the state championship (about 77 miles there and back), then travel from Manhattan to Oklahoma for the college national championship (672 miles roundtrip), then travel back to Milford for the Classic Bracket. That means a total of just 826 miles on the road are all that potentially separates one Wildcat angler from his dream — a berth in the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing. Heck, The Proclaimers have walked farther for less.
And considering the Wildcat program has won three national championships in five years, it’s not only possible — it’s expected.
“Words cannot describe how excited I am that the Classic Bracket will be on Milford Lake,” said K-State’s Blenn, the defending FLW college series national champion. “Milford is where I caught my first smallmouth and where I first learned to tournament fish, so you could say that I know the lake pretty well. First of all, finding out that we had the opportunity to qualify in state for the national championship was pretty exciting to hear. Then, once I found out that the national championship was going to be on Tenkiller in Oklahoma, I started to get even more excited. I mean I was making phone calls to all my buddies that day.
“Just the way the lake sets up, I really like my odds of going down there and doing some damage. With it being so close to home, I will also have a lot of opportunity to travel down for pre-practice once I qualify. Once I found out that the Classic Bracket fishoff was going to be on Milford, I really couldn’t hardly believe what I was hearing. You know, we always set the bar high here at Kansas State expecting to go out and win, but once I heard that the bracket was going to Milford, it really makes you feel like there is no other option.”
As one of the hottest names in college bass fishing right now, Blenn was even asked to be at the news conference when the event was announced.
“So after the press conference today, I picked up the phone again and called all the same friends,” he laughed late Monday, joking he didn’t think he’d be able to sleep at all that night. “There’s a lot of pressure riding on this season for me. Not only because of how the schedule is lining up, but also from all of my buddies, not to mention this will be my last opportunity at the Classic as a college angler. Things are lining up to be a perfect storm. While none of this will be an easy feat by any means, the expectations are at an all-time high.
“I’m trying not to look too far in advance and I’m trying to put the Classic Bracket in the back of my mind and take this one step at a time. First of all, I have focus on getting qualified to go to the national championship. Once I do that, it’ll be my main focus for the summer, and once Tenkiller goes off limits I’ll be right back here practicing. While I try and keep Milford in the back of my mind, I can’t help but constantly think about it daily. As I mentioned earlier, none of this will be easy at all, but without a doubt this is going to be one of the best opportunities we’ve had to send a Kansas State angler to the Bassmaster Classic. From there, that anger gets an awesome opportunity to try and go pro and make it to the Elite Series, as well. I really think, at the end of it all, I would not be a bit surprised to see a Wildcat there at Milford in August, fishing for an opportunity of a lifetime.”
The news also was big for the community, which mainly consists of Junction City and Fort Riley to the east of Milford. The Junction City/Geary County Convention and Visitors Bureau expects the event to bring in anglers and onlookers from across the country, which could be a huge economic windfall for the area.
“This will be an exciting time for Milford Lake, the largest lake in Kansas, and for our citizens and visitors,” said CVB director Michele Stimatze. “Having worked with B.A.S.S. in the past, we know this event will attract visitors from across the nation and put the spotlight on Kansas bass fishing. Our CVB team is all ready to make it a great event, and we look forward to making everyone feel welcome.”
Reigning Bassmaster Classic champion Jordan Lee, of Grant, Ala., was a representative of the College Series himself during the 2014 Classic.
“College fishing was by far the greatest step for me and the best four years I could ever hope for,” Lee said in a news release on Bassmaster.com. “I learned a lot about the sport, and that is really paying off now. College fishing makes you step outside your home lake and challenges you to find bass on different lakes. To win the Classic a few years after graduating college shows the younger generation that it can happen — just have to put in your time, take the right steps and have fun!”
The tournament will even be streamed live on Bassmaster.com for those wanting to watch from home.