PITTSBURGH, Pa. After spending Thursday off the water signing autographs, posing for photos, conducting media interviews and hearing two news announcements, the nation's 47 hottest pros are preparing to invade Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Friday, officially kicking off the 35th annual CITGO Bassmaster Classic.
The Classic contenders survivors of a qualification process involving four BASS circuits spent Thursday meeting an enthusiastic public during the Bassmaster Family Fest at Point State Park and later participated in Media Day festivities at the Marriott City Center.
In between, they heard two exciting announcements from BASS officials:
Four-time Classic champion Rick Clunn was revealed as the winner of the Greatest Angler Debate sponsored by John Deere. The veteran Missouri pro beat out nine-time BASS Angler of the Year Roland Martin in a special runoff election involving fishing fans voting via Bassmaster.com.
Details were announced on the new Bassmaster Women's Tour, the first big-league stage for female anglers, which will debut in 2006. The Tour will include a preview event, October 20 – 22 on Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas, and five tournaments in 2006. The women will fish in conjunction with two CITGO Bassmaster Tour competitions and all three Bassmaster Majors.
Many of the more than 200 media representatives from around the world took advantage of the afternoon by interviewing Classic contenders on the eve of the most important tournament of the year.
With those activities now completed, the Classic pros' attention turns to the three-day competition that awards $200,000 to the winner, along with the most coveted title in professional fishing.
"I'm ready to get it started," said Jimmy Mize of Arkansas, 49, who is competing in his third Classic. "We finally get to go fishing. This is going to be a game of ounces here and I've got as good a shot as anybody. Let's get going."
Classic rookie Bradley Stringer of Texas shares the same eagerness.
"The week has flown by," he said. "When I woke up this morning, I didn't realize it was Thursday and the tournament starts tomorrow. All of this media and everything is great, but in the morning, once take-off is done, it's back to the normal routine of running, locking and relaxing enough to try to catch some fish."
After an official five-day scouting period nearly a month ago and Wednesday's lone practice round, the Classic pros have some definite ideas about strategies and patterns most likely to produce largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass.
"Nobody is going to win this tournament off one spot or one area," Oklahoma's Edwin Evers said. "You're going to have to move around. There's going to be a lot of CITGO gasoline used this week."
One of the strategic decisions Classics pros have to make is whether to run sections of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers that require locking through a dam. BASS tournament history is replete with stories of anglers who had the winning weight only to be unable to lock through in time to avoid a late penalty or miss check-in entirely.
Included is 2005 Classic contender Gary Klein who would have won the 1987 world championship on the Ohio River in Louisville if not for a lock delay.
"That is an important decision," Alabama's Tim Horton said. "It's always a risk. You have to know that if you lock through you could be sitting there Sunday about 2 o'clock with the winning stringer for nothing. That's part of the gamble that's going to present itself with locking."
Another element Classic pros will factor into their strategy is the growth and increasing popularity of the Classic, in other words, spectator boat traffic.
"You have to plan for that," Klein said. "When you roll into a place to catch shallow-water fish and you've got 30 sets of boat wakes that are shutting down behind you, it's just going to basically reposition the fish. So you have to be a thinker."
The 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Classic will receive unprecedented coverage on ESPN and ESPN2 this year. A total of 12 hours of programming will be devoted to Classic tournament coverage July 29-31.