CHARLOTTE, N.C. Bink Desaro and 11 other pros have known for months that their tickets had been punched for the coveted 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer in Charlotte. Unlike the other 40 Classic contenders, they have enjoyed the luxury of not having to wait and ponder their fate in regards to professional fishing's most important event.
"Man, am I glad I already had my Classic invitation in my pocket," said Desaro, the only Classic rookie among the 12 Open representatives to the world championship event. "You can just fish so much more relaxed (on the CITGO Bassmaster Tour) knowing that you have the Classic made."
Fishermen from the Southern, Central, Northern and Western divisions battled through three tournaments in four geographic regions of the country last fall to earn the three invitations to the Classic. They include:
Southern: Denny Brauer, Mo., David Walker, Tenn., and Tim Horton, Alabama.
Central: Tim Carroll, Okla., Edwin Evers, Okla., and Steve Sennikoff, Texas.
Northern: Art Ferguson, Mich., Kevin Wirth, Ky., and Chuck Economou, Fla.
Western: John Murray, Ariz., Skeet Reese, Calif., and Bink Desaro. Idaho.
Their wait will end July 30-Aug. 1 in Charlotte when they join the other top anglers in the weeklong celebration of bass fishing known as the 34th Classic. At stake in the three-day competition on Lake Wylie will be a $200,000 top prize and the biggest title in competitive fishing.
Last year, Michael Iaconelli took full advantage of his entry through the Opens to win the 2003 Classic on the Louisiana Delta.
Desaro came out of nowhere to earn an invitation to fishing's Big Show. The 34-year-old Idaho angler surprised several far more seasoned Western pros to garner one of the three Classic spots from that region. Then he proved that it was no fluke by competing well on the Tour and posting a runner-up finish at Lake Eufaula.
"I really didn't think about the Classic when the (Open) season started," he admitted. "I just wanted to get out there and start fishing. The first tournament was on the Columbia River, which is kind of my home waters. I fished three or four tournaments there before and I only live about four or five hours away from there.
"I got 13th, which ended up being my worst finish of the year. I felt pretty fortunate to get 13th and I really didn't expect to do as well at Clear Lake as I did (sixth). Then I got a seventh at Havasu. It all worked out better than I could have dreamed it would. I feel very fortunate. I feel very lucky to be going to the Classic."
That feeling is shared by his veteran Open counterparts.
"My main goal was to make the Classic, like it is every year," said Horton, who will be making his fifth consecutive Classic appearance. "That made fishing the Tour a lot more fun because I didn't have the stress of trying to make the Classic."
"I had never been in a position to have the Classic made before the (Tour) ever started," added Walker, who finished third in his last two Classic appearances. "It was a great feeling."
"I missed the Classic the last two or three years, so it was great to get back there through the Opens," said Brauer, who has finally recovered from recurring back problems to return to the Classic for the first time since 1999. "That's always the goal of every angler obviously. It was nice having the Classic made already."
After qualifying for the Classic through the Western division, Murray then eliminated his competition by one angler by winning the inaugural CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship in December on Toledo Bend Reservoir.
"It was a real luxury having the Classic made so early," said Murray, 34, who will be making his third Classic appearance. "That made fishing the Tour a little easier. And I'm really looking forward to fishing the Classic."
The $700,000 Classic is the most important and widely watched event in competitive fishing. The winner takes home $200,000 and a piece of angling immortality. Fishing fans both in the Charlotte Coliseum and watching on ESPN/ESPN2 will take home a boatload of memories.
This year, for the first time, ESPN and ESPN2 will dedicate 11 hours of television coverage to the Classic, including live coverage of the daily weigh-ins. And for the first time viewers will receive live updates from the on-the-water competition and live updates between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on both ESPN and ESPN2.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Associate Sponsors include G3 Boats.