CELEBRATION, Fla. While there's still five months until the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series kicks off in March with the "Battle on the Border" on Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas, at least one angler is writing his game plan by visiting a majority of the 14 sites the Series and Bassmaster Majors will visit.
In the last few months, two-time BASS winner Marty Stone, 40, of Linden, N.C., has staked out eight of the 14 lakes he will fish in the 2006 Elite Series. "I'm really excited about the Bassmaster Majors and Elite Series," he said. "Even before the deadline was announced, I'd been pre-fishing these lakes."
Following a respectable 18th place finish in the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Classic in Pittsburgh, Pa., the three-time Classic qualifier embarked on his first scouting trip to Eagle Mountain Lake in Fort Worth, Texas, site of the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Memorial, the first of three Bassmaster Majors events.
From there, he and fellow Elite Series pro and 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle tested the waters at Lake Amistad and Sam Rayburn Reservoir. After a short break at home, Stone was on the road again beginning his analysis on Lake Guntersville in Alabama, then moving on to the Arkansas River in Arkansas, Grand Lake in Oklahoma, Table Rock Lake in Missouri a lake he's most comfortable on and Kentucky Lake in Kentucky.
"I spent two or three days in each place and rode the lakes to see where everything was," said Stone. His purpose was not solely to fish, but also to logistically prepare. Stone would make note of the surface features of each lake but also be sure to locate the boat ramps and hotels and restaurants in the area.
The final two stops on Stone's list include trips to Clark's Hill Reservoir in Georgia and Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina. Additionally, Stone plans to fish Lake Tohopekaliga, site of the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic, before waters close to Classic anglers on Nov. 21. Stone is participating in "Angling Against Cancer" on Nov. 12-13, a charity tournament hosted by the Kissimmee-St. Cloud Convention and Visitor's Bureau benefiting the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
Already ahead of the pack, Stone has a few predictions for the 2006 Elite Series.
"I believe in the first five events we're going to have some phenomenal weights," said Stone. "We're really running into lakes with peculiar personalities and hitting them at all seasons. Del Rio has the potential if we hit it right and it is one of the most beautiful places I've been … Grand Lake is a whole lot bigger than I thought and very fertile. I was really impressed with the quality of that lake.
"If we hit Toho right, we'll break every big stringer limit and weight at the Classic," added Stone. "We'll do the exact opposite of Pittsburgh when we broke the smallest Classic weights."
When not researching competition lakes, Stone is spending his downtime working with his sponsors and spending time with family. CITGO and Lucky Craft USA will wrap Stone's boat and truck. His remaining sponsors, Mercury Marine, Purolator, Bass Cat Boats, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, American Rodsmiths, Lowrance Electronics, North Carolina car dealership Powers-Swain Chevrolet, fish attractant Carolina Lunker Sauce and Rugged Shark Footwear also will support him in 2006.
"I've been doing this too long to have nerves, but I do have a lot of anticipation," said Stone, who says he will complete his tour by the end of the year. "The degree of professionalism is changing. I love it."