- Tim Tucker
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Fishing fans know Steve Kennedy dominated the Toyota Rookie of the Year race and earned an invitation to the 2007 CITGO Bassmaster Classic on Alabama's Lay Lake the same event his father, Van, fished in 1982.
Somewhat overshadowed by the heroics of Kennedy, 37, of Auburn, Ala., were the performances of two other CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series rookies who qualified for the world-championship Classic.
Jared Lintner, 33, of Arroyo Grande, Calif., had never fished outside his home state before the 2006 Elite Series took him to Texas' Lake Amistad for the season opener. Despite that, he finished 18th in the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
"It was an awesome year," he said. "I'm excited about making the Classic my first year."
Remarkably, this rookie cashed a check in eight of the 11 Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments, winning $96,700 total. His highest finish was seventh at the Pride of Augusta on Clarks Hill Reservoir in Georgia.
Bill Lowen, 31, of Cincinnati, Ohio, earned a check in seven tournaments, finishing with his second fourth-place showing in the season finale in The Rock presented by TheraSeed on Table Rock Lake in Missouri. En route to pocketing $94,200, he placed 26th in the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
"It's been awesome. It's been a heck of a year," he said. "It went a little better than I thought. I wasn't expecting to do so well, and I'm just tickled to death. Making the Classic is awesome. I'm still on cloud nine. It hasn't sunk in, yet. For my first year, I couldn't ask for more."
As for the $55,000 Lowen spent on Bassmaster Elite Series entry fees, "It was a big investment, but it was definitely worth it," he said.
The way Kevin Short sees it, the Bassmaster Elite Series ended way too soon.
After going eight tournaments without earning a dime, the 44-year-old Arkansas pro came on strong in his final four events.
It began by finishing 13th at New York's Lake Champlain during the Champion's Choice, then got better with a sixth-place showing at the Potomac River in Maryland during the Capitol Clash. That enabled him to score the last invitation to the Bassmaster Legends presented by Goodyear on the Arkansas River, where he placed third.
And at the Bassmaster Elite Series season-ending competition in September at Missouri's Table Rock Lake, Short nailed another third-place finish.
"I'd like to go about four more rounds," he said, smiling. "I've been close the last couple of times to winning one. I think if I had four more shots, I might be able to get there.
"I do not have a clue (what led to the turnaround). Somewhere between Oneida and Champlain I guess I got my head out of my butt and remembered how to catch fish. I can't point to any one event or anything; I didn't, like, pass a moose on the highway or anything like that. So I really don't know. It just worked.
"I'm really looking forward to next season," he said.
The eight-member Alabama gang is not the only big contingent headed for the 2007 Classic.
They are matched by eight Texas pros: Kelly Jordon, Mineola; Alton Jones, Waco; Matt Reed, Madisonville; Todd Faircloth, Jasper; Zell Rowland, Montgomery; Takahiro Omori, Emory; Gary Klein, Weatherford; and James Niggemeyer, Lindale. Niggemeyer qualified for his first Bassmaster Classic by finishing first in CITGO Bassmaster Southern Tour points.
In addition, two Texans will be among the 12 competitors in the inaugural Mercury Marine Women's Bassmaster Tour Championship presented by Triton Boats: Juanita Robinson of Highlands and Robin Babb of Livingston.
Vote for Ray
BASS founder Ray Scott is one of four finalists for the 2007 Budweiser Conservationist of the Year award.
The winner will receive a $50,000 grant to donate to the conservation group of choice.
If he wins, Scott said he plans to give the award to the BASS Federation Nation so state conservation directors can use it for grass-roots programs that benefit anglers across the country.
To vote, go to www.budweiser.com, then navigate through Sports to the Outdoors section.
Veteran Oklahoma pro Tommy Biffle's Bassmaster Elite Series boat is wrapped with the logo of Polaris ATVs promotion of a company that hits close to home for him.
The 14-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier owns an ATV store called Tommy Biffle Lakeside Polaris in his hometown of Wagoner, Okla., which helped him convince Polaris to become his title sponsor.
As a young angler, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brian Snowden of Reeds Spring, Mo., was cranking in California's Clear Lake when he hooked what he thought was a big bass.
"It hit the crankbait under the water and fought like a bass," he recalled. "I thought I had a good one until a loon popped up next to the boat. My dad had the net ready.
"He was hooked in the bill. I had to hold his head down to keep him from pecking me to pull the hook out."
Did you know?
The state of Texas holds the record for the most anglers sent to a Bassmaster Classic. Twelve Texans fished the 1983 Bassmaster Classic in Cincinnati. Alabama will set a record this year for the most native sons competing in a home-state Classic, with eight.
If I hadn't become a BASS pro
Rookie pro Lowen would likely still be "laying floors carpet and tile." He was a subcontractor before quitting for his inaugural campaign in the big leagues of BASS. "This is way more fun," he said.
They said it
"I can't believe the way this sport has changed. When I first got into this, I really thought I was doing something if I got $3,000 to $4,000 for winning a tournament. Now I'm getting $25,000 apiece from sponsors to wrap my boat and my truck with their logos. I'm making $150,000 to $200,000 a year fishing something I never thought I'd see."
Guy Eaker, 66, tells the Kansas City Star newspaper how much the sport has progressed in his 31 years as a BASS member
1hBy Jackie MacMullan