- Tim Tucker
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CELEBRATION, Fla. Gerald Swindle, one of the most high-profile Alabama pros in this week's 37th annual Bassmaster Classic, was asked about the potential impact of spectator boat traffic on Lay Lake.
"I don't see why they'd want to chase me when they can chase Russ Lane and the favorites," the 2004 Bassmaster Angler of the Year said, laughing.
Although Swindle probably should be considered among the favorites, he is more than happy to tag Lane the as THE pre-Classic consensus favorite.
"I think he is a strong favorite because he's more knowledgeable about the lake than anybody," Swindle said. "I fished Lay extensively when I was growing up but that was years ago."
Swindle warns, though, that Lane, from Prattville, Ala., will have to withstand a number of off-the-water distractions if he wants to become the first angler to ever win a Classic held in his home state.
"More boat traffic is always a concern when you are a local angler and you are the favorite," Swindle said. "I think he will also get a ton of questions from the media that will make him start to second-guess himself. The questions will be very blunt and some guys just aren't used to that."
Lane and Swindle are part of a contingent of nine Alabama anglers who qualified for bass-fishing's most-major event. Fishing fans can monitor their favorite angler's progress via the Classic live leaderboard on www.ESPNOutdoors.com and through 10 ½ hours of television coverage aired on ESPN2 during the three-day event.
A NEW SEASON.
Rick Clunn is the most experienced angler in BASS history when it comes to Bassmaster Classics. So how does the four-time champion feel about the Classic being held in February?
"I'm looking forward to fishing one this time of the year," said Clunn, who will fish in his 31st Classic this week. "I prefer fishing the Classic at this time of year. It certainly will make an interesting and different test, and I think that is great in this case."
AN EARLY TASTE.
In the days leading up to last week's three-day official scouting period (Feb. 13-15), some of the Classic field spent time on other Coosa River lakes like Lake Mitchell and Jordan.
One of those enterprising pros was Oklahoma's Jeff Kriet.
"I was part of a photo shoot the last two days for Longhorn Tobacco on Jordan and now I'm fishing a little on Mitchell," the Oklahoma pro said early last week via cell phone. "These fish are a lot more active than what they are at home. I think it's going to be pretty good at the Classic.
Kriet and others fished the Coosa River lakes because they are somewhat similar to Lay Lake and might offer some clues for the Classic. But Classic favorite Russ Lane is skeptical of the value of fishing the neighboring bodies of water.
"I guess it could help, but those lakes are pretty different from Lay Lake," he said. "I do see some value if you determine what stage the fish are in. That should translate over to Lay and could help a little."
Juanita Robinson won the recent 2007 season-opener of the Mercury Marine Women's Bassmaster Tour presented by Triton Boats in record style. Her 56-8 three-day winning weight stands as the heaviest weight ever recorded in WBT competition.
And she gives some of the credit to her traveling partner and roommate Patty Campbell.
"She's a real good friend," said Robinson, a contender in this week's WBT Championship on Lake Mitchell. "We travel together, stay together and share expenses. We also share fishing knowledge.
"It works out real well when you have somebody working with you. You cover so much more water that way."
THE BIG SHOW.
Anyone who has attended or watched a Bassmaster Classic on television knows that it is far more than just a tournament. It's nothing short of an extravaganza.
So, what can Classic fans attending bass fishing's most-major event expect for this year's edition of the Bassmaster Classic?
"Our goal is to really wow the fans," said Eric Lopez, BASS director of operations.
"The purpose of the weigh-in is to showcase the anglers for the fans and make them larger than life."
Lopez said that the JumboTron used at the weigh-ins will be 41 feet tall by 18 feet tall and that fans can expect the usual pomp and circumstance involved with the marquee event.
BIZZARE CLASSIC TRIVIA.
Longtime Classic fans will recall that Jim Bitter had the 1989 world championship literally slip from his grasp when he accidentally released a keeper-sized bass on his way to his livewell.
It was the last keeper-sized bass Bitter would catch in the final round. The Florida pro lost to Hank Parker by a mere two ounces.
Elite Series pro Lee Bailey's boat will look familiar to fishing fans in 2007. It will be the same basic wrap he featured last season.
That's because the Alabama angler recently resigned a sponsorship deal with Foxwoods Resort casino and will continue his relationship with Fabco Equipment Company in Albertville, Ala.
Bailey, who is part of the Alabama contingent of anglers fishing in this week's Classic, also struck new deals with local companies www.viewlakeguntersville.com, a local Guntersville realty company and Clay Irrigation, a lawn sprinkler system company that services the Guntersville area.
DID YOU KNOW?
In preparation for Classic XXXVII, former champion Takahiro Omori attended the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., to work on such subjects as focus, imagery and mental toughness. The cost for one week was $1,300.
THEY SAID IT.
"Dean [Rojas] gave me the advice that changed my life. He told me I needed the experience of fishing every day. I could only get that training by being a fishing guide. He advised me to move to Lake Fork. I thought about it a little while, packed everything I owned into a van and drove to Texas in 2001." Classic competitor and 2007 Bassmaster Elite Series angler James Niggemeyer told the Dallas Morning news he followed fellow Elite Series pro's advice to jump-start his fishing career.
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