General Tire Heavy Hitters 2024 is taking shape - Major League Fishing

General Tire Heavy Hitters 2024 is taking shape

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Alton Jones Jr. has claimed more than $250,000 in prize money during the past two Heavy Hitters events. Photo by Tyler Brinks. Photo by Tyler Brinks. Angler: Alton Jones Jr..
August 15, 2023 • Mitchell Forde • Bass Pro Tour

The 2023 Bass Pro Tour season is now in the rearview, which means it’s time to start looking ahead to next year. While it hasn’t yet been revealed when or where General Tire Heavy Hitters will take place in 2024, we do know who will receive invitations to fish the fifth iteration of the annual big-bass bonanza.

Heavy Hitters qualification is based on weight, with anglers’ biggest fish from each of the seven regular-season tournaments counting toward their total. The top 30 anglers earned spots at Heavy Hitters, where not only will the winner receive $100,000, but an additional $200,000 in big bass bonuses will be up for grabs. 

The 2024 invite list will include three of the previous four Heavy Hitters champions: Jordan Lee, Ott DeFoe and Alton Jones Jr. Depending on how the schedule works out, it also could mark the final professional event for Kevin VanDam. VanDam has announced his retirement from the BPT but said he will fish REDCREST and Heavy Hitters in 2024. 

Here’s a look at some of the big-bass specialists who will battle it out for the title belt. 

Jones Jr. to defend title

The father-son duo of Alton Jones and Alton Jones Jr. has dominated Heavy Hitters the past three years, with “Junior,” in particular, taking home more money from the event than anyone else. The younger Jones didn’t just win the Championship Round on Louisiana’s Bussey Brake in 2023, he lapped the field. He sacked up 81 pounds, 15 ounces on 15 fish in the every-fish-counts format (with a 3-pound minimum), which gave him a 59-pound margin of victory over second-place Dakota Ebare, the second-largest cushion in Bass Pro Tour history.  

Yet that doesn’t even mark Jones’ most profitable Heavy Hitters event. At Lake Palestine in 2022, Jones took home $150,000 in big fish bonuses after catching the largest bass during both the Knockout and Championship Rounds. He’ll look to keep his Heavy Hitters success rolling and defend his title belt in 2024. 

Lee seeking second belt

Jordan Lee
Jordan Lee took home $200,000 from the inaugural General Tire Heavy Hitters event. Photo by Phoenix Moore

It didn’t take Lee long to take a liking to the Heavy Hitters format. During the inaugural event on the Kissimmee Chain in 2020, Lee took home $200,000 by both finishing in first place and catching the biggest bass of the Championship Round. 

Lee hasn’t quite replicated that success in the past three iterations, but he will enter 2024 with plenty of big-bass-catching momentum. Lee earned more daily Berkley Big Bass money ($8,000) than anyone else during the BPT regular season, landing the biggest fish of the day five times and the largest of an event once. All of that bonus money came during the final two stops of the season — due in large part to the fact that Lee caught the biggest fish of the field on each of the four days he took the water during his win on Lake St. Clair.  

While catching big smallmouth is a bit different than luring trophy largemouth, Lee should always be considered a contender in a big-bass battle. A Heavy Hitters win next year would make him the first two-time winner of the event. 

Thrift due for Heavy Hitters win?

Heavy Hitters was good to Bryan Thrift in 2023, as he padded his tour-high $490,982 in winnings on the year by boating the largest bass of the Championship Round. The only scorable bass he caught all day was the right one; it weighed 9-1 and earned him $100,000. 

If anyone is overdue to take home the title belt, it’s Thrift. Thrift has finished among the Top 10 in three of the previous four iterations of Heavy Hitters, including a runner-up finish in 2020. He’s the only angler in the field to have three Heavy Hitters Championship Rounds on his résumé. 

Beware Ebare

Dakota Ebare finished second to Alton Jones Jr. in his Heavy Hitters debut. Photo by Tyler Brinks

It’s just a matter of time before Ebare breaks through and earns his first BPT win. The 31-year-old star has notched eight top-six finishes and finished second four times during his first two years on tour.  

Could Heavy Hitters mark his time? It would be fitting. Not only did Ebare finish as the runner-up to Jones at Bussey Brake a season ago, he’s been as proficient at catching big fish as anyone since he arrived at the top level of the sport.  

Across the past two seasons, Ebare has boated the Berkley Big Bass on seven competition days — tied with Jacob Wheeler for the most among BPT anglers. That includes a pair of 9-pounders he caught during Heavy Hitters 2023, one on each day of the Qualifying Round.  

Omori qualifies in top spot 

No one generated big bites as consistently as Takahiro Omori in 2023. The veteran angler topped the Heavy Hitters qualifying standings with 41-12 in total weight. 

While that earned Omori a return to Heavy Hitters after he missed out in 2023, history indicates that it doesn’t necessarily make him the favorite to win the event. The top qualifiers in each of the past two seasons have fared well; both Dustin Connell in 2022 and Randy Howell in 2023 made the Championship Round. However, the two most recent winners have come from well down the standings. DeFoe took home the belt at Lake Palestine after qualifying 28th, while Jones barely snuck into the field last year, qualifying 30th

Six anglers make it 5-for-5 

Bryan Thrift has not only qualified for Heavy Hitters in five straight seasons, he won $100,000 by catching the biggest bass of the Championship Round in 2023. Photo by Rachel Dubrovin

Qualifying for Heavy Hitters is, obviously, not easy. Not only can catching big bass be somewhat random, but less than half the BPT field earns a spot in the cup event. 

Yet a group of anglers have clearly separated themselves for their ability to generate big bites. Six of the competitors who qualified to fish Heavy Hitters in 2024 have also participated in the event each of the past four years. 

A few of the names won’t surprise anyone: Connell, Lee, Thrift, Wheeler. Wheeler and Connell have each notched two Top 10s apiece at Heavy Hitters, with Wheeler finishing third and earning $50,000 in big fish bonuses in 2021.  

Rounding out the group are Brent Ehrler and Randall Tharp. Ehrler, long regarded as one of the most consistent anglers on the BPT without a win, has been similarly solid at Heavy Hitters. He’s only finished worse than 15th once (coming in 18th in 2020, when all 80 tour anglers participated in the event) and has a pair of Championship Round appearances. Tharp showed his knack for landing big bass this season, as he finished 60th in the Angler of the Year standings but 25th in Heavy Hitters qualifying. 

Both Tharp and Ehrler had to make late rallies to keep their streaks alive. Ehrler came to Saginaw Bay in 33rd place in the standings, while Tharp was 37th. Other anglers who climbed into the top 30 at Stage Seven were Todd Faircloth and Keith Poche. Poche pulled off the most dramatic comeback, vaulting from 40th to 28th thanks to a 4-9 largemouth he caught on the second day of qualifying. 

Two to make Heavy Hitters debut 

A pair of anglers will experience the Heavy Hitters format for the first time next season: Matt Becker and Dylan Hays

Hays figured out how to make the big fish cooperate this year. He finished eighth in the Heavy Hitters standings after coming in 64th as a rookie. Meanwhile, it’s no surprise that Becker, the winner of the Bally Bet Angler of the Year and Stage Seven, made the cut. He’ll be the lone representative of the 2023 rookie class in the event.  

If history is any indication, Heavy Hitters 2024 will likely occur on largemouth waters. But don’t count out the smallmouth specialist. Becker claimed $1,000 in Berkley Big Bass money at both the Kissimmee Chain and Lake Guntersville during his rookie season.