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Bassmaster Classic Notebook, Feb. 21

2/21/2010

ALABAMA MAN CASTS FOR $100,000, WINS $5,000

Joe Boutin of Prattville, Ala., was lucky enough to be selected as the sole contestant in the $100,000 Berkley Cast for Cash contest Sunday during the Bassmaster Classic weigh-in finale — but just not quite lucky enough to win the big prize.

Berkley gave him a consolation prize of $5,000.

He was allowed two attempts at casting a plug about 60 feet upward into the 12-inch-wide mouth of a 20-foot-tall inflatable shaped like a leaping bass. At past Classic competitions, contestants were given only one cast.

Berkley has conducted the contest at the annual Classic event for more than a decade. No caster has ever been successful, although Berkley would love to pay up; an insurance policy takes care of that.

Boutin, a 26-year-old firefighter, was the contestant because he was sitting in an arena seat that matched a randomly selected number. A BASS member since he was about 10 years old, Boutin is an avid angler and competes in tournaments near Prattville. He says he came to the Classic to cheer on Russ Lane, a Classic competitor from Prattville in contention for the win up until the final hour.

He was given his pick of rod-and-reel combos to perform the cast, and then was coached in the courtyard of the BJCC by 1979 Classic champion Hank Parker.

"I didn't have to teach him anything," Parker said.

Boutin elected to use the baitcaster, an Abu Garcia Silver Max All-Star Platinum model.

Berkley made sure he didn't go home empty-handed. Beside the $5,000, he received a Berkley bag packed with tackle, plus all three combos available to him to make the cast: a Abu Garcia Abu Matic spincast combo, an Abu Garcia Cardinal spinning rig, and the Abu Garcia casting outfit, all spooled with Trilene XL fishing line.

WHERE DO THE FISH GO?

After each Bassmaster Classic angler weighs in on the big stage inside the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, BASS Tournament Director and weighmaster Trip Weldon lifts the bin of fish from the scales, bends to reach under the weighing podium, and straightens back up empty-handed.

Weldon seemingly makes the fish disappear. They don't, of course. When he stoops down, he's handing the bin of fish through a hole to two volunteers waiting under the stage. One grabs a bin of fish as Weldon hands it down, then walks about 50 feet to backstage tanks filled with Lay Lake water, while the other volunteer waits for the next bin of fish.

They did this 51 times Friday and Saturday, and 25 times Sunday — once for each Classic angler's bag.

The volunteers, Drew Sexton and Jacob Haynes, are members of Southern Outcast, a BASS Federation Nation club from Anniston, Ala. They're 19 years old, a definite advantage on the job. Working under the staging, agile joints and muscles are a plus.

At all Bassmaster tournaments, quick, safe transport of bass back to the competition water is a top priority. Specially equipped live-release boats usually get the job done. But with the 2010 Classic weigh-in in downtown Birmingham, 44 miles from Lay Lake — many of those miles being interstate travel in heavy traffic — fish care becomes a new challenge.

Part of the solution was contracting with Barry Smith of the American Sport Fish of Montgomery, Ala., a private aquaculture producer, said Chris Horton, director of BASS Conservation.

"We can't use our live-release boats to transport fish the distance we have to travel from downtown Birmingham to Lay Lake because of the weight of the water on the axels of the release boat trailers," Horton said.

The American Sport Fish tanker has large built-in livewells that are filled with water taken from Lay Lake.

"We want the same water chemistry those fish came from," Horton said.

After weigh-in, the tanker is driven to Lay Lake. There, BASS tournament officials transfer the bass into a waiting live-release boat filled with Lay Lake water. A special net is used to move the fish from the truck's tank into the boat's holding tanks. The boat takes the fish far from the launch site at Beeswax Creek and releases them into the main river channel so they disperse evenly, said Horton.

"They use what we recommend all anglers use for netting bass, a rubber mesh net," Horton said. "They're easier on the angler because hooks don't stick to it. But the main reason we use them is because they're super easy on the fish, they don't remove scales or slime coat."

"There's other places we could take the fish that would be closer, but we always want to take them back to where we caught them," he said. "We never want to take anything away from local anglers. We want to leave the fishery in as good shape, if not better, than when we found it."

ASHLEY SINGS

Casey Ashley, 2010 Classic competitor from Donalds, S.C., sang the national anthem Sunday, the final day.

Ashley stepped in for the scheduled performer who took sick at the last minute.

The Bassmaster Elite Series pro was off the water after missing the Top 25 cut Saturday.

CAJUN BABY

The wording on the T-shirt that hundreds of Cliff Crochet fans are wearing tells the story: "Cajun Baby Fishing: Est. 1983."

From Pierre Part, La., Crochet is 100 percent Cajun. Born Aug. 1, 1983, he was the second youngest competitor to qualify for the 2010 Bassmaster Classic; Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., also is 26, but was born six months after Crochet.

The shirt is helping Crochet finance his Classic trip and rookie season in the Bassmaster Elite Series. Crochet said about 300 friends, family and fans have bought the shirt, which invites more support by prominently displaying his Web site address www.cliffcrochet.com.

He can expect his fan base to grow. When he spoke on the Classic weigh-in stage inside the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, the soothing Cajun cadence of his voice and broad smile won over the Classic crowds.

He said about 30 family and friends came from Louisiana to Birmingham, Ala., to support him in his first Classic appearance, which is also his first tournament as a rookie Bassmaster Elite Series pro. His cheering section included his mother, father and girlfriend.

His girlfriend does not care for fishing herself, Crochet mentioned.

"I tried to teach her, but when I first took her fishin', I hooked her in the hand with a buzzbait," he said. "So she's been fishing one time since, but she sat under the console with a lifejacket over her head, so our days fishing are pretty much over."

Won't she change her mind after watching her boyfriend in bass fishing's biggest tournament?

"She's not into the fishing, but she's enjoying the Classic."

He had no plans to propose to her on the Classic stage, he said.

"It's been done already," he said, grinning. "I might do it, but it won't be this year, I guarantee you that. I love her to death, but my head will be into fishing tomorrow."

Crochet was referring to Sunday, the last day of 2010 Classic competition. He was in 12th place going into the final day, the best showing of rookie qualifiers. He ended with 28 pounds, 15 ounces, ending in 13th place.

PUPPY LOVE

Mark Menendez was introduced to a future fishing partner Saturday on the Bassmaster Classic stage: a puppy.

The 12-week-old male Labrador retriever was a surprise gift from Mark's wife, Donna. Classic co-emcee Fish Fishburne made the presentation in front of the crowd at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex during a break in the weigh-in action.

Menendez, an Elite pro from Paducah, Ky., competing in his fifth Classic, used to travel and fish with Barkley at his side, a yellow lab he adopted in 2001; Barkley saw Menendez through some tough times in his life. Barkley died last October.

Backstage, Menendez held the puppy in his arms as he fielded reporters' questions.

He was asked the pup's name.

"We don't know yet — it will be something related to Barkley," said Menendez.

How old is he?

"I don't have a clue, we just met."

Would he train the dog to retrieve game?

"No, the only thing he'll hunt is dog treats."

How do you train a dog to ride in a bass boat?

"You just throw him in the boat and go. Barkley couldn't swim, that's why he'd never jump out of the boat."

Donna Menendez had to work hard to keep the puppy's existence from her husband.

"I had him flown in Tuesday," she said. "He stayed with a friend for two days in Montgomery, Ala., and he drove with the puppy here to Birmingham on Thursday, and has been staying in his own room in the Sheraton since Thursday. My babysitter was here so she was able to help us, without Mark knowing a thing."

The puppy will actually be the third dog in the Menendez household.

"We got this one for him (Mark) to take on the road," she said. "He's a fishing partner. Not a replacement for Barkley — no one can replace Barkley."

TO YOUR GOOD HEALTH

At five locations inside the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick's Sporting Goods, showgoers could get a free squirt of gel hand sanitizer.

It's made by Safe-T-Products, a division of Synergy Technologies of Shreveport, La., the official hand sanitizer of the 2010 Bassmaster Classic. Safe-T-Products include Safe-T-Net spray, Safe-T-Wipes and Safe-T-Cleanse gel, the version offered at the Expo.

Besides being the official hand sanitizer of the Classic, Synergy will be the title sponsor of the fifth event in the regular season of the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series. The Synergy Technologies Southern Challenge will be May 6-9 on Lake Guntersville out of Guntersville, Ala.

Randy Allen, a 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series pro, owns the company, which sponsors two Classic competitors, Cliff Crochet of Louisiana and James Niggemeyer of Texas.

Ben Johnson, marketing director, said Allen founded Synergy about six years ago with antimicrobial products for industrial and food-processing markets. The hand sanitizer aspect of the company's business started up in January. It has enjoyed success in many markets, not just sportfishing, said Johnson.

"We're committed to the fishing industry because we both grew up around fishing," he said. "We have been watching the reactions of people as they use the stations. We're very pleased, we had excellent contacts made," Johnson said.

Information about the company is available at www.syntrx.com.

TOAST TO QUINN

Jason Quinn stands out as the 2010 Classic competitor with the earrings and Evan Williams Bourbon sponsorship.

Fishing his fifth Classic, Quinn made the cut for the fourth time to compete the final day, so he wasn't able to appear Sunday in the Evan Williams booth; he's always a big draw to autograph seekers and fishing fans.

A Bassmaster Classic sponsor, the bourbon maker kept fans busy anyway. The booth offered a string of fun contests and activities. Thousands of participants won prizes of T-shirts and other goodies, and fan names were drawn for several gift baskets.

By wearing an Evan Williams Bourbon T-shirt to the weigh-in, fans were eligible to win a move up closer to the stage. The promotion was called "Be the shot of the day."

Sponsors of the 2010 Bassmaster Classic: Toyota Trucks, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, Mercury, Humminbird, Minn Kota, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha Marine.