It's been almost 10 years since the world's best professional bass fishermen visited Greensboro, but this week, they're back with a flourish.
The Bassmaster American, one of three major tournaments on the nation's oldest fishing circuit, will make a four-day appearance in the Triad, offering a total purse of $601,400 to the 51-man field, including a first-place prize of $250,000.
The pros will fish High Rock Lake, south of Lexington, on Thursday and Friday. After the second day of competition, the field will be cut to the 12 anglers with the heaviest two-day weight totals, and then the tournament will shift to Lake Townsend for Saturday's third round.
The municipal lake will be divided into six fishing "holes" through which the dozen leaders will rotate, with the top six on Saturday returning for Sunday's final round and another trip around the six-hole fishing course.
Daily weigh-ins will begin at 4 p.m. ET at the Coliseum. The field will blast off at 6:15 a.m. on Thursday and Friday from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's Southmont Access Area off Route 8, and at 6:15 a.m. from Lake Townsend Marina on Saturday and Sunday. Those events are open to the public, as well as a fishing Expo at the Coliseum's Special Events Center at 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
The pros have visited High Rock three times in the Bassmasters Classic in 1994, 1995 and 1998. Only one of the three fishermen crowned world champion is back for this year's event: 1998 champion Denny Brauer. Bryan Kerchal, the 1994 champion, was killed in a plane crash four months after winning; 1995 champion Mark Davis is no longer fishing BASS events.
BASS will honor Kerchal this week throughout the American, the first of its three majors. Last year, the American was won on Lake Wylie by Dave Wolak, a rookie from Pennsylvania who has since relocated to the town of Wake Forest.
Wolak is the only fisherman in the field from North Carolina. He qualified as the defending champion, Alabama's Boyd Duckett qualified as the 2007 Classic champion, Mike Iaconelli of New Jersey qualified as the 2006 Bass Angler of the Year, and Derek Remitz of Texas qualified as the leader in the 2007 Rookie of the Year standings. The other 47 fishermen qualified based on points earned during the 2006 and 2007 Bass Elite series tournaments.
Besides Wolak, the fishermen with the closest ties to North Carolina are Alabama's Randy Howell, a former Lake Gaston guide, Virginia's John Crews and South Carolina's Davy Hite, Jason Quinn and Ray Sedgwick.
Hite, who was in contention to win the 1994 Classic, said the tournament dates fall into sort of a gray area, with bass in all stages of the spring spawn. That could keep any one technique from dominating at High Rock the first two days.
"There will be a little bit of everything going on," said Hite, the 1999 Classic champion who will turn 42 on Friday. "You'll have some offshore cranking, some boat docks, some backs of creeks.
"When you're fishing for a quarter-million dollars, you've got to try and catch everything you can."
Maynard Edwards of Lexington, a High Rock fishing guide, expects most of the fish taken at High Rock to be caught in shallow water, but he didn't rule out the biggest 5-fish daily limits coming from well off the bank.
"I'm not sure what they're going to find, but I know those guys will do OK," Edwards said. "There will be a lot of shallow fish, and that's what they'll target. There could be a real good dock bite, and those guys are going to dissect all of the boat docks.
"Normally, I'd say that they were coming at the wrong time, because normally, it can be tough this time of the year, because you've got so many fish that have just finished spawning and aren't going to bite. But I'm not sure that a lot of those fish have already spawned and will already be out on those secondary points because they're already beginning to show up there."
Edwards said two factors could affect how well fishermen fare and where they catch their fish: the lake level and last weekend's cold weather.
"As high as the water has been, they can fish all the way to I-85 in Abbotts Creek," he said. "And the change in the weather we've may cause those fish to pull up on docks."