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Off day — not so much

7/27/2010

MONTOMGERY, Ala. — Monday's off day for the top 12 Elite Series anglers was anything but.

Though those vying to win the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title were kept busy, a day off the water was a welcome relief from an Alabama heat wave.

After a morning session of TV shoots, they gathered for a media day luncheon, where Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange announced the Elite postseason would be coming back next year.

Beside the economic benefits, Strange said being host city to the events offers tremendous exposure. He was out of the country and saw a TV ad showing his city.

"You can't buy that kind of publicity," he said.

After being treated to roasted beef tenderloin, broiled fish and shrimp cocktail, a meal many said was absolutely the best ever in years of BASS travels, the anglers met the media. Each sat at their own table conducting interviews.

After Russ Lane won the Ramada Trophy Chase on Sunday, the point standings were reshuffled and are much closer, making Friday's Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph a tossup.

"The next one is definitely anybody's ballgame," Edwin Evers said.

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There was still talk of Aaron Martens' fish-care penalties that cost him the Chase, and many worried about when they would have time to prep their tackle and take care of personal business before Wednesday's first day of practice on the Alabama River.

"My biggest concern right now is getting my dirty underwear clean," said Skeet Reese, who had his lead trimmed to five points.

The anglers then learned they need their big bass pants on Tuesday. Anne Wood, public relations director for Hope for the Warriors, has rounded up 12 wounded soldiers from across the nation to fish an exhibition with the Elites.

"You guys are rock stars to these guys," Wood said. "They were chosen because they are avid fishermen."

The program, which was started by three Marine Corps wives, is dedicated to bringing attention to injured military men and their families.

John Crews has been involved in various other wounded warriors events and comes away each time thinking that he's not the real star.

"It is often the other way around," he said, relating some of the experiences he's been told. "These are the guys who sacrifice so much for our country."

The anglers were also presented with a topographical map to The Waters, a private trophy bass lake where they will guide the soldiers. Seconds after seeing it, Crews, pointing to a road bed, told Kevin VanDam, "There's going to be a rush for right here."

A short respite, and it was off to Bass Pro Shop in Prattville, where the anglers lined up for an hour-long autograph session with several hundred fans.

Clarence Hodges of Wetumpa brought his wife, Olivia, sons Brayden, 7, and Jakob, 11, and friend Josh Ward, 15. They literally sweated out Sunday's weigh-in — it was too hot to go Saturday — and rooted for Lane (because their favorite Mike Iaconelli didn't make it this year).

"When they said that 18-flat, I was shaking," said Ward, who picks Lane to win it all. "Russ is catching fish. He knows spots. It's going to be something."

The Hope for the Warriors presentation was next, with the matchups announced. The soldiers were also given a $200 gift card to shop with their pro to prep for Tuesday's fishing.

BASS tournament director Trip Weldon laid out the stringent tournament rules. "Have fun!"

The anglers expect that a 10-pound or larger bass will win it, and some were overheard trying to kitty up $100 each for the winner's pool.

The crowd then headed to watch Lane throw out the first pitch for a minor league baseball game between the Montgomery Biscuits and the Carolina Mudcats. Lane, a former minor leaguer himself, threw a strike.
Several anglers secretly hoped he would throw out his casting arm, as being on home turf might just help him to victory.

As the night waned, the anglers headed back to the hotel to get some sleep for the early launch that can be seen live here on Bassmaster.com. Lane went home to Prattville to sleep in his own bed.

"That's my homefield advantage."