By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Longtime BassFans may recall that Jay Yelas' departure from B.A.S.S. after the 2006 Bassmaster Classic was anything but amicable. He wrote an opinion piece a few months before that event that lambasted the organization for what he perceived as a dramatic – and decidedly negative – culture change under ESPN's ownership. He stated publicly that the only reason he was going to that final Classic was to fulfill sponsor obligations; if he'd had only himself to consider, he'd have been nowhere near Florida's Lake Toho on that February weekend almost 13 years ago.
Now the '02 Classic champion and '03 Angler of the Year is back in the B.A.S.S. fold, having used the "legends exemption" to secure a berth on the revamped Elite Series. His views on what transpired in the mid-2000s haven't softened any and he said he'd make the same decision again if he had it to do over, but the principals responsible for those hard feelings are long gone and he views the total shake-up of the sport caused by the formation of the new Bass Pro Tour as the ideal chance to begin a new chapter in his long career.
"I had this opportunity a couple years ago and declined it, but this time I felt that the time was right," said Yelas, who fished the FLW Tour exclusively for the past 12 seasons and won his second AOY title on that circuit in 2007. "Timing is the key factor for so many things in life and it's something I've prayed about a lot because I wanted to get the Lord's direction; I wanted to feel like I was doing the right thing, and I feel like this is where I'm called to be right now.
"I'm thankful to get the opportunity to fish B.A.S.S. one more time and I think it's going to be good. The new ownership (Tennessee-based Anderson Media Corporation) is very appealing and it's a chance to help rebuild the culture. I want to see B.A.S.S. succeed and I'll do everything I can to help it move forward from here and be successful."
Seeks Competitive Revival
Yelas never finished lower than 35th on the final FLW Tour points list from 2006 through '13, qualifying for the Forrest Wood Cup every year. His performance took a big nosedive the following season, though, and he's struggled badly ever since – he's ended up no higher than 77th in the points in any of the past five campaigns.
"I had the best years of my career with B.A.S.S. (he fished his first season at the organization's top level in 1989) and I don't expect it to be like that, but I'm excited about it," he said. "I need a spark – I've been in what you'd have to call a rut for several years and I haven't really been inspired. Some of that has been due to my work with the C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation (he's the executive director), but I know I've got some good tournaments left in me. This is going to be a great challenge and maybe it'll inspire me to put a little more into it and see if I can get on a roll again.
"Also, B.A.S.S. has a great media platform and hopefully it'll give me an opportunity to create more awareness of C.A.S.T. for Kids. I really want to see it grow and get more kids fishing. FLW has never written anything about it, even though we talked about it several times, and that was always a little puzzling. B.A.S.S.' media platform is much bigger and that was a big motivating factor for me, too."
Naturally, he badly wants to return to the Classic.
"It's still the premier fishing tournament in the world each year. I'd love to have a chance to get back in it and win it again."
Still Needs to Eat
Yelas is one of more than a dozen 2018 FLW Tour pros who've made the switch to the Elite Series in the wake of the Elites losing 68 anglers to the BPT. He has no ill feelings toward the organization that he's leaving.
"I've thoroughly enjoyed the last 12 years over there," he said. "With the staff they have, it's just a delightful work atmosphere. But things change over time and it's a new day in bass fishing, and this is just the right move to make at this time."
He's roomed with Scott Canterbury at tournaments for the past several years and joked that he might've been less inclined to make the switch had Canterbury not been coming along as well.
"Scott's just so good on the grill," he said. "It's a much smaller factor, but it's one that had to be considered – I had to go if I wanted to continue to eat his good cooking."