- Lynn Burkhead
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Editor's note: ESPN2's "BassCenter" airs each Saturday at 11 a.m. ET. This episode of "BassCenter," with its countdown of best bass cities, re-airs on ESPN2 TV March 20 at 5 a.m. ET, March 22 at 4:30 a.m. ET and March 23 at 5 a.m. ET)
Are you ready to rumble?
Good then let's get it on and declare the new bass-angling capital of America.
After two weeks of online fan voting and trash talking from one end of bass country to the other, the cities of Birmingham and Orlando stand poised to become just that following the outcome of Bassmaster magazine's America's Bass Capital vote that concluded March 15.
That vote the results for which will be announced at 11 a.m. ET this BASS Saturday on ESPN2's "BassCenter" pits two of the country's bass-fishing heavyweights.
In one corner is the Magic Kingdom of bass fishing, the city of Orlando that is an American version of Venice with water, water everywhere and most of it filled with giant bass.
In the opposite corner is Birmingham, a city of unrivaled bass-fishing variety and tournament-angling history, not to mention the finest spotted-bass fishing to be had anywhere in the world.
So who will win on Saturday's Bass Capital decision day?
While that remains to be seen, here's a closer look at each city and its claim to America's bass-fishing throne.
Orlando big-bass central
What does the home of Disney World, Epcot Center, Universal Studios and the NBA's Orlando Magic have going for it in terms of being selected Bass Capital of the U.S.?
Plenty, as in plenty of water; there are countless big, medium and small size lakes in central Florida.
And plenty of lunker bass to boot in the land of the Florida-strain largemouth, the genetics of which have forever changed the face of big-bass angling across the nation.
That much is apparent when BASS pros like Dean Rojas weigh in five bucketmouths from the region weighing a stunning 45 pounds, 2 ounces.
And don't think Rojas' January 2001 record catch at Lake Tohopekaliga was an aberration, either; the recent, record-shattering catches at the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic last month on Tohopekaliga and the Kissimmee Chain proves otherwise.
Keep in mind that for every famed big-bass water that you've heard of in and around Orlando, there are several more that you probably haven't.
"Around Orlando, you've got Toho, the Harris Chain and a number of other famous lakes," said James B. Hall, editor of Bassmaster Magazine.
"But you've also got a bunch of puddle lakes that may never get fished but may harbor giant bass."
In fact, among the city of Orlando's 104 lakes totaling 4,600 acres are water bodies with monikers like Baldwin Lake, the Butler Chain, Turkey Lake and Lake Underhill.
These lakes and their other relatively unknown aquatic siblings undoubtedly provide the nation's best urban opportunity at catching a double-digit bass.
Even more impressive is the fact that of the 18 miles of shoreline actually found within Orlando, an estimated 95 percent of that is bank accessible to anglers.
"The access to big bass in Orlando is probably unrivaled in my opinion," said Hall, who makes his home nearby.
"I pass no fewer than 30 small lakes going from my house to the office every morning and within 30 minutes of those lakes, there are another 30 lakes."
Charged with managing many of those aquatic resources is John Evertsen, the supervisor of surface water management for the city of Orlando.
A passionate angler, the 46-year-old Evertsen has been fishing for bass since he was age 3.
And while his career-best lunker tipped the scales at 13 pounds, 3 ounces, he's always just a cast away in the greater Orlando area from breaking that mark.
"I just caught an 11-8 two weeks ago while fishing just outside the city limits," Evertsen said.
Apparently, the catching of big bass runs in the family, since Evertsen's 9-year-old son, Joshua, recently pulled an 8-2 fish out of Lake Baldwin.
"We caught 34 bass that day on Baldwin and the best five went 31 pounds," Evertsen said.
Is it any wonder that the land of Mickey Mouse is up for Saturday's Bass Capital announcement on the Deuce?
Birmingham bass-fishing variety and heritage
If Orlando's claim to the Bass Capital throne centers on its sheer volume of water and its famed double-digit lunkers, then Birmingham's claim lies on the opposite end of the spectrum.
That's because virtually no metropolitan area in the United States can match the sheer variety of bass-angling opportunity that is found in and around the shadows of the Birmingham skyline.
Well, consider that within 80 miles of the city limits, some of the continent's top fishing waters for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and spotted bass can be found.
From the Tennessee River system to the Coosa River system, a plethora of hallowed water body names like Guntersville, Jordan, Lay, Lewis Smith, Logan Martin, Neely Henry, Weiss, Wilson, and Wheeler readily come to mind when a discussion of 'Bama bass fishing begins.
"If you want to learn your craft as a bass angler, Birmingham is a good place to do it," said Mike Pehanich, author of the recent America's Bass Capital features in Bassmaster Magazine. (Click here for Part 1 of "America's Bass Capital?" and
click here for Part 2.)
To start with, there's plenty of shallow water to fish nearby.
"In Birmingham, you've got some relatively shallow waters like Guntersville where lipless crankbaits and frog-type baits are good in the spring," Pehanich said.
If shallow water's not your gig, then think a bit deeper.
"You get into some of the reservoirs in the area that are deep with sheer rocky bluffs and depths of up to 200 feet," Pehanich said.
"One very interesting thing there is that a lot of the deep water finesse tactics weren't even tapped (by anglers) until recent years. Before then, anglers were basically capturing the fringe bass around the shoreline and the more easily accessed areas.
"But now, with some of these finesse techniques, anglers are able to plumb the depths for spotted bass and such."
Speaking of spotted bass, that is another major feather in Birmingham's angling cap.
That's because of the two species of spotted bass the Alabama spotted bass and the Northern spotted bass that often are found at the end of an angler's line in the region.
"The spotted-bass fishing near Birmingham in late March and early April is just unreal," Wetumpka, Ala. angler Tommy Jacques told Pehanich for his Bassmaster magazine piece.
"I have seen 30-pound sacks (five-fish limits) of nothing but spotted bass take the money."
Giant spots aren't the only lunkers to call the Birmingham area home; big smallmouth bass are readily found in waters not too far north of the city.
How big are the bronzeback bass there? Well, let's just say that it takes a 5-pound smallie or better to get anyone excited.
Add in Birmingham's bass-fishing fan base and its rich history hey, BASS was born in central Alabama and the Bass Capital vote for the city gets even stronger.
"Birmingham certainly has good fishing," Hall said. "But the city probably has better bass-fishing fans than anywhere else on earth."
Who will win? Flip a coin!
Obviously, both cities make strong bids to being named America's Bass Capital.
Which leads us to ask the question: "Who will win tomorrow?"
"The favorite? Well, my guess is that Orlando, in the wake of the Classic, would be the frontrunner," Pehanich said.
"But I think this whole thing has really rejuvenated the spirit in the Birmingham area.
"There is so much excitement down there (in Birmingham). I think they've really rallied the support there."
In other words, the Bass Capital race could be a virtual deadlock, a race that is too close to call.
"It's really a coin flip between the two," said Hall.
Thank goodness there are no hanging chads in this vote!
"It has come down to the metropolis that is richest in bass-fishing history versus the metropolis with probably the best bass fishing in the country," Hall said.
"Whichever one actually wins, the title will be well deserved."
Tune in to "BassCenter" Saturday at 11 a.m. ET on ESPN2 and see if you don't agree.
ESPN2's "BassCenter" airs each Saturday at 11 a.m. ET. This episode of "BassCenter," with its countdown of best bass cities, re-airs on ESPN2 TV March 20 at 5 a.m. ET, March 22 at 4:30 a.m. ET and March 23 at 5 a.m. ET)
13hEric D. Williams