Long Wait Nears End for Bassmaster Open Pros
NEW ORLEANS, La. - June 11 - They have known for months that their ticket had been punched for the prestigious 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer. And while the pressure was off, the 15 survivors from the CITGO Bassmaster Opens have had to wait and ponder their fate in professional fishing's most important event.
Their wait will end Aug. 1-3 in New Orleans when they join 46 other top anglers in the weeklong celebration of bass fishing. At stake in the three-day competition on the Louisiana Delta will be a $200,000 top prize and the biggest tournament title in competitive fishing.
Representing the Central Division will be Greg Hackney of Oak Ridge, La., Edwin Evers, Mannsville, Okla., Mike Gough, Gainesville, Fla., Homer Humphreys, Minden, La., and Chad Morgenthaler, Carbondale, Ill.
The Southern Division contingent includes Jason Quinn, Lake Wylie, S.C., Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn., Todd Auten, Lake Wylie, S.C., Michael Johnson, Talking Rock, Ga., and Tom Hamlin, Macon, Ga.
From the inaugural North Division, the Classic class includes Koby Kreiger, Osceola, Ind., Lee Bailey, Amston, Conn., Michael Iaconelli, Woodbury Heights, N.J., Randall Romig, Barto, Pa., and David LeFebre, Erie, Pa.
These 15 pros, who also earned a place on the coveted CITGO Bassmaster Tour this season, are obviously pointing toward the upcoming Classic.
"It's incredible," said Iaconelli, a two-time BASS winner who will be going to his fourth Classic. "I'm just so excited; I can't tell you."
Gough, the 56-year-old owner of an auto repair shop, is going to his first Classic after trying to get there for 18 years.
"I've been out there a long time," he said. "I told somebody the other day that it only took me 18 years to make the Classic. For me, it's probably a once-in-a-lifetime situation."
One of the best stories about this year's Classic involves Randall Romig.
The 52-year-old veteran of the big-league bass wars was enjoying a stellar BASS career before his health problems and those of his wife, Ethel, forced him into a premature retirement three years ago. The Pennsylvania pro went on an indefinite hiatus from a career that had earned him more than $247,000 and three second-place finishes.
Last fall, Romig returned to fish the Northern Opens and displayed the same top-notch form to earn his 11th ticket to the coveted Classic.
"It's nice to be going back to the Classic after what we've been through the last couple of years," he said. "It seems like one or the other of us always had something going on. If it's not Lyme disease, it's heart trouble. If I could ever get to where everything was good with my health and her health, I think I could still compete for another five or six years at least. But that's just been one of the big issues throughout my whole career - health problems."
Michael Johnson is following in the footsteps of his father-in-law, former Classic qualifier Danny Kirk.
"He hasn't told me anything about the Classic, besides the fact that the (Louisiana) Delta is huge," Johnson said. "I've been to the two Classics that he was in, so I got to participate somewhat in what went on. So I'll be a little bit familiar with it."
Chad Morgenthaler and Edwin Evers are the only pros to qualify for the Classic on both the Open and Tour circuits. Morganthaler has been preparing for the biggest event of his career for months now.
"I've done some homework on the Delta," he said. "Some preparations and things like learning my way around with the map. That was a nice thing about knowing that I had already made the Classic. I went down there a little over a week before the cutoff. I spent some time just running around in February. It's a big area.
"And in the six days of official practice (later this month) I hope some more things unfold because obviously the fish weren't doing the same things down there in February that they're going to be doing in August.
"I think I've got a pretty good handle on it. I feel good about it. I think the style of fishing that we're going to have to do in the Classic is going to fit right into what I feel real comfortable doing."
The excitement for the nation's CITGO Bassmaster Open pros won't end in New Orleans. Next fall's schedule will include the return of the Western Division and a special no-entry-fee Open championship event in December.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning over 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Chevrolet Trucks, Yamaha Outdboards, Mercury Marine, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Kumho Tires, Progressive Insurance, Abu Garcia, Berkley, Diamond Cut Jeans, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, Bass Pro Shops, Armstrong Industrial Hand Tools, and BankOne.
Associate Sponsors include Bass Cat Boats and G3 Boats
Local sponsors include the State of Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, and Jefferson Parish.
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