It was great to see two Louisiana bass pros in second- and third-place battling it out with the best in the business on the penultimate day of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite tournament Feb. 13 on the St. Johns River out of Palatka, Florida.

Greg Hackney of Gonzales finished Day 3 of the circuit’s opener with a five-bass limit weighing 23 pounds, 6 ounces, for a three-day total of 58 pounds, 7 ounces, in his first Elite appearance since Aug. 23-26, 2018. The personable pro bass angler who I compare favorably to the venerable Bill Dance left the Elites to compete on the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour in 2019 and 2020.

Hackney returned after qualifying last year via the Bassmaster Opens. His happy return was punctuated by a second-place finish with a four-day total of 59 pounds, 14 ounces, on the St. Johns River to win $35,000.

Derek Hudnall of Baton Rouge, whose father, Roger Hudnall, competed back in the day against several of the veteran “sticks” across the Teche Area, weighed a limit at 22 pounds, 5 ounces, the first day and added a 17-pound limit on Friday. He stayed in second place on Semifinal Saturday after weighing 15 pounds, 4 ounces, but slipped and finished ninth with a four-day total of 63 pounds, 3 ounces, for $17,500.

Both Louisianians were chasing Patrick Walters of Summerville, South Carolina, going into Championship Sunday. He smacked a 26-pound, 7-pound limit on Day 3 for a three-day total of 58 pounds, 10 ounces, going into the fourth and final round in Florida.

Unfortunately, while Hackney and Hudnall were representing the Sportsman’s Paradise, New Iberia’s Caleb Sumrall missed out on making the Top 50 cut in the 99-angler field following the first two days on Thursday and Friday at St. Johns River. Sumrall, who was hopeful for a better start than in each of his three previous season openers (the last two were on St. Johns River), bowed out before Semifinal Saturday and finished 83rd with 13 pounds, 6 ounces.

Neither Hackney, Hudnall nor Walters hoisted the coveted blue Bassmaster Elite Series trophy on Championship Sunday. That honor went to a rookie, Bryan New of Belmont, North Carolina, who completed his startling comeback from 22nd, ninth and sixth to win $101,000.

New became the newest darling of the country’s oldest pro bass circuit with a 26-pound, 4-ounce, limit (second-heaviest bag of the event) for a four-day total of 79 pounds, 7 ounces.

Walters finished fourth with 38 pounds, 13 ounces, worth $25,000.

Hackney, who put on a fishing clinic catching big bass in a heavy downpour early Saturday, Hudnall, Walters, New, Sumrall, and the rest of the Elites have a short break before they return to the water this week for the 2021 Bassmaster Elite tournament that starts Thursday on the Tennessee River out of Knoxville.

Their next stop is March 18-21 for the Bassmaster Elite tournament at Pickwick Lake, Florence, Alabama.

However, a coronavirus pandemic-related postponement already has messed with the schedule, much like 2020. The Bassmaster Elite tournament on the Sabine River, originally scheduled to be held April 8-11, has been rescheduled for Aug. 19-22 in Orange, Texas.

After that impromptu break in the action Elites return to the water April 21-25 at Lake Fork, Quitman, Texas. There are five tournaments scheduled following the event at Lake Fork.

The 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk already has been changed from its originally scheduled date in March to be held June 11-13 on Lake Ray Roberts, Fort Worth.

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Louisiana is following the lead of several other states with a decision to convert to plain paper licenses.

State Department of Wildlife and Fisheries announced Feb. 11 it is changing how hunting and fishing licenses are printed. Starting March 15, licenses and tags no longer will be printed on durable stock paper. Instead they will be printed on regular 8.5x11 paper.

Other states are even moving to 100 percent digital licensing, noting that encouraging digital licensing and email addresses paves the way for a more efficient communication method with licensees about season changes, regulation changes, soliciting input, etc.

Those states pointed out required hardware must be shipped, maintained and serviced at the retail vendors by a contractor. Also, It must be stored on the counter at each local, which presents an obstacle for some vendors wishing to sell licenses.

An LDWF official said the state agency is making the switch to eliminate aging hardware requirements associated with the traditional printed system.

The LDWF pointed out licensees may choose to have a digital copy of the license emailed to them. Just make sure the vendor has your email address recorded accurately and the electronic license will be sent immediately after the purchase.

The digital copy can be saved on a smart device and used as proof of a valid license on the water or in the field. However, deer and turkey tags must be printed for use in the field.

For more information go to LDWFLicensing@wlf.la.gov.

DON SHOOPMAN is outdoors editor of The Daily Iberian.

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