With a Bassmaster Classic berth at stake this season, the pros of the Women's Bassmaster Tour presented by Academy Sports & Outdoors are approaching the April 10-12 season opener on Texas' Lewisville Lake with one mind-set: determination.
The WBT pro who leads the standings at season's end will win the Toyota Women's Bassmaster Tour Angler of the Year race and qualify for the 2009 Bassmaster Classic, earning a place in angling history as the first woman to enter the world's most prestigious bass fishing competition.
"The Classic berth stepped up the competition," said 2006 AOY Dianna Clark of Bumpus Mills, Tenn., who won the May 2006 WBT event on Lewisville with 30 pounds, 2 ounces. "My determination is stronger than it's ever been."
Besides valuable points at the Lewisville event, pros will compete for a top prize of $51,000 in cash and merchandise, including a Triton/Mercury boat rig. Co-anglers will contend for a $25,500 first-place package that includes a Skeeter/Yamaha boat rig.
Fans can follow the daily competition at Bassmaster.com. Live, streaming video and real-time leaderboards of the weigh-ins will begin Thursday and Friday at 4 p.m. ET, and Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET.
The 2008 season has another exciting new aspect: final-day weigh-ins at Academy Sports & Outdoors retail locations. The April 12 finale of the season opener will be at Academy's Lewisville store, 2428 South Stemmons Freeway, across from Vista Ridge Mall. The weigh-ins are free and open to the public.
Just north of Dallas, Lewisville Lake is a 29,000-acre fishery with a history of producing lunker largemouths. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Kevin VanDam took an 11-pound, 13-ounce largemouth out of Lewisville on the first day of an Elite 50 tournament in June 2005, then went on to win the event with a haul of more than 58 pounds.
VanDam's 11-13 stood as the lake's record until November 2005, when an angler topped it with a 13.63-pound behemoth, which stands as the all-tackle record.
"There are some really big fish in the lake," said Clark, adding that challenging spring conditions on Lewisville promise to put WBT anglers to the test. "The lake can be real tough this time of year. One thing is it gets 20-, 25- even 30-mph wind gusts, so that's a major factor for people not accustomed to wind."
Clark, who said she has scouted the lake for about 30 days, is watching the water level. It's up about 2 feet due to recent heavy rains.
"There's a lot of standing timber in the middle of the lake and in different bays, but it's under water now. So if you don't know where it is, finding fish in timber will be an issue," she said.
The spawn might be in full force by April 10, but if fish are on the beds, the lake's stained water will make sight-fishing difficult, according to Karol Whitehurst of Winnsboro, Texas, a three-time 2007 winner in the co-angler division who will compete at Lewisville as a pro for the first time.
"The rain and wind have made the lake really muddy," said Whitehurst, noting that even under normal conditions the lake's water is off-color.
Fresh off her victory in the co-angler division of the February WBT Championship, Whitehurst is fully charged for Lewisville after three scouting trips, her first times on the Trinity River impoundment.
"I wasn't familiar with Lewisville at all," she said. "Sometimes knowing the lake too well can hurt you more than help you. I'm hoping I find some areas the locals wouldn't even think of fishing, because I can look at the lake with a fresh eye."
She predicts that to be in contention she'll have to bring in 15 to 17 pounds a day "and probably more than that to win if we're getting them off the beds."
Another pro who fans will be watching is Pam Martin-Wells of Bainbridge, Ga., who with 31 pounds, 11 ounces won on Lewisville in October 2005 at the WBT Preview, the tour's introductory event. The April 10-12 tournament on Lewisville marks the start of the WBT's third season.
Sponsors for the Women's Bassmaster Tour include Academy Sports & Outdoors, Toyota Tundra, Advance Auto Parts, Lowrance, Mercury, Skeeter, Yamaha, OPTIMA Batteries, Triton Boats, Legend Boats, MoGills and Mustang.