Jay Yelas – Domination of the West in 1988

Jay Yelas in 1988, his rookie year of competitive bass fishing. Yelas would go on to win two AOY awards in the 88/89 season and cement himself in the professional bass angling world. Photo Novcember/December 1988 issue of Bass Fishing Magazine. Matt Vincent Author/Photographer.

Jay Yelas in 1988. Photo Nov/Dec 1988 issue of Bass Fishing Magazine. Matt Vincent Author/Photographer.

In 1987 Jay Yelas was a recent college graduate with little tournament experience under his belt. The fact is, though, by the end of 1988, he was not only an experienced tournament angler, he was an experienced winner.

His first big-time event took place in the summer of 1987 – the U.S. Bass U.S. Open held on Lake Mead. In that tournament he finished in 6th place and that launched his career. In the next 18 months he’d chock up five wins on four different western impoundments – including the 1988 Operation Bass Championship – and win two different Angler of the Year awards. Not too bad for a rookie.

I remember anglers coming into the shop at that time, the big sticks of the west, talking about this new kid who ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and slept in his van at the lakes for months on end. “He just showed up out of nowhere and now he’s taking our money,” they’d say. It wasn’t long after the name Jay Yelas became a standard in the southwestern tournament scene. [Read more…]

The U.S. Open 1981: An Event that Changed Bass Fishing – Part Two

Greg Hines holding $50,000 in cash on the third night of the 1981 U.S. Open. Photo Nov/Dec 1981 issue of Western Bass Magazine.

In Part One of this series we introduced the entrants of the event, talked a little about how it was a crap-shoot whether anyone would pay a $1,000 entry fee and finished by saying two anglers were spending copious amounts of time practicing for the event. Now we’ll look at the days leading up to the event along with the event itself.


Many months prior to the event it was quoted by a famous tournament organizer that, “There’s no way you’ll pull off a $1,000 entry tournament.” The naysayer couldn’t have been more wrong. Now the event had wheels – 161 of them to be exact – and there was no stopping the forward momentum.

An event of this magnitude, though, required a lot of planning and the folks at WBFA had their work cut out for them. The tournament would not only feature the main event itself, the tournament, but would also have a myriad of daily activities for the anglers’ wives and families. The event, as Vegas says, never slept. [Read more…]

The U.S. Open 1981: An Event that Changed Bass Fishing – Part One

The Press Guide from the 1981 U.S. Open. Courtesy of Bill Rice, long-time editor of Western Outdoor News and Western Bass.

This is part one of a three-part series on the first-ever U.S. Open hosted by Western Bass Fishing Association. The U.S. Open, at the time, had the largest payout ever for a bass tournament and drew anglers from all over the country. In this part, we’ll cover a bit of the history of what led up to the event along with an introduction of the anglers. I have to thank long-time editor of Western Outdoor News and Western Bass, Bill Rice, for the photos and for editing of this piece.


In 1981, competitive bass fishing was turned on its ear when Western Bass Fishing Association (WBFA) announced the plans to put on bass fishing’s highest-ever paying event at Lake Mead near Las Vegas, Nevada. Coined as the U.S. Open, the event had a $50,000 guaranteed first-place prize and over $180,000 in cash and prizes combined.

Numbers like these were unheard of at the time. The Bassmaster Classic, the biggest event in bass fishing at the time, was paying $40,000 to the winner and it wasn’t until 1983 when Bassmaster started the Super B.A.S.S. series of tournaments that the U.S. Open would be outdone from a winnings standpoint. [Read more…]