When it comes to fishing the CITGO Bassmasters Classic presented by Busch Beer, fishing in one's home state doesn't always mean an automatic advantage. In fact, no angler has ever won a Classic in his home state in the 32-year history of the tournament. Few even came close.
Some professional anglers might even consider participating in a Classic in their "backyard" more of a curse than a blessing. During the 1999 Classic, anglers in Louisiana pinned their hopes on Rodney Wagley of Baton Rouge, who fished waters about 80 miles from his home. In the first few minutes of the first day, Wagley sustained injuries in a boating accident not far from the launch site. The injuries affected his fishing and he finished well back in the pack.
In 2002 three Alabama anglers qualified for the Classic held in Birmingham. Of the three, Tim Horton was the only one to qualify for the final round of competition, scraping out an 18th place finish. Randy Howell ended up 34th out of the 52 competitors and Jamie Horton finished 40th.
At least two anglers hope to break that jinx during the 2003 Classic. During November's Texas CITGO Bassmaster Central Open presented by Busch Beer on Lake Sam Rayburn, near Jasper, Texas, Greg Hackney of Oak Ridge, La., and Homer Humphreys of Minden, La., won the right to represent their home state in the 2003 Classic.
"Being from Louisiana, people are going to expect a lot more out of us," Humphreys said. "There's a lot more pressure on us, but I think it's great to have the Classic in my home state. I feel great about going to New Orleans and representing Louisiana. I can begin concentrating on the Classic now without worrying about how I will do in the Tour this spring. In that sense, the pressure is off of me."
Neither Humphreys nor Hackney considers the sprawling Louisiana delta marshes their home waters. Although their relative proximity to the tournament waters allows them more time for scouting and less travel time, neither north Louisiana angler regularly fishes the vast shallow tidal marshes of the delta.
"People have called me saying that I've got the Classic won because they think those waters are out my back door, but they are seven hours away," Humphreys said. "I feel like I'm going to a new world. A lot of competitors have been down there before at that time of year for past Classics and know how to fish that area."
More known for deep-water techniques, Humphreys often fishes Toledo Bend, the Red River, Caddo Lake, Lake Bistineau and other northwest Louisiana waters. The 25-year veteran bass pro won't find many 30-foot holes in the delta, but he did compete on tidal waters during the 1990 Classic on the James River of Virginia.
"I've fished a few tournaments down in the delta, but I'm not that familiar with those waters," Humphreys admitted. "It's a totally different fishery than what we have in northwest Louisiana. Down there, I may never find deep water. It's going to be a challenge. I'm going to spend a lot of time down there mapping out some GPS coordinates."
Hackney lives in northeast Louisiana, but calls southeast Arkansas home. In his second year as a pro and first on the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail, he'll fish his first Classic in August. His wife, Julie, lived in New Orleans and went to school in Baton Rouge. Hackney occasionally fished southern Louisiana on visits to see Julie. They married three years ago and moved to Oak Ridge, about halfway between New Orleans and Greg's roots in Arkansas.
"The Louisiana delta is not my home water," Hackney said. "I consider the lower Arkansas River delta my home waters. I'm a shallow-water river fisherman and that suits the delta. I'm very excited to fish the Classic. That's the biggest thing in fishing. I put a lot of pressure on myself, so it doesn't matter where the Classic is held."
A lumberjack accustomed to hard work outside in hot summer conditions, Hackney also thinks his heat-tolerance might give him some advantage in the sweltering delta marshes.
The 2003 Classic competitors will launch at Bayou Segnette State Park in Westwego, La., outside of New Orleans, on Aug. 1-3, the same venue that hosted the 1999 and 2001 Classics.