Dreams and Schemes Occupy Anglers on Eve of Classic Competition
NEW ORLEANS, La. - July 31 - With Friday's opening round of the 33rd annual CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer just hours away, Thursday was a day for talking, dreaming and scheming.
At the Media Day festivities presented by Chevy Trucks and held at the Red Fish Grill on the famed Bourbon Street, the atmosphere among the 61 Classic contenders resembled that of major league baseball's opening day or an NFL team's training camp season: full of optimism, hope and even fantasy.
Because when the casts start counting on Friday morning on the Louisiana Delta, everyone is tied for first place and has the same chance of winning the $200,000 top prize in the sport's most prestigious event. When it comes to professional fishing, the Classic is the one and only "major."
While the young pros in this Classic may have trouble tempering their enthusiasm for their shot at fishing fame and fortune, the veterans have learned to pace themselves as Classic week unfolds.
Texan Gary Klein is going through the pre-Classic routine for the 21st time. Experience has taught him how to deal with the jitters and hoopla that are integral to the giant annual celebration of the sport of bass fishing.
"You learn to control your anxiety," said the 45-year-old, two-time BASS Angler of the Year who has never won the Classic. "I'm a competitor, so I want to fish. But I don't get wrapped up in the other aspects of (the Classic) so much. I just go and try to do the best that I can.
"Probably the most important thing I have over the young guys or the newcomers to the Classic is the ability to stay a little bit more focused. I know how I was when I qualified for my first Classic in 1979. That's a major deal. You are very wrapped up in it. It's hard not to get wrapped up in the Bassmaster Classic, because it is the Super Bowl of our sport. That's what makes it fun. It's exciting. It's a great event."
Florida's Roland Martin is the grand old man of bass fishing, a genuine living legend. The oldest man in the Classic field at 63, he holds the BASS record for Angler of the Year titles (he has nine) and tournament victories (he's won 19).
As he enters his 25th Classic, Martin is still in search of his first world championship.
"I always come into the Classic with a lot of wishful thinking," he said. "Let's face it, it's the big prize that we all strive for. Every one of us is thinking, 'Man, wouldn't it be great to win? Just think of what it would do to my career and what it would mean to my bank account and to my family.'
"Never having won the Classic bugs me because I've had four or five good opportunities to win it. It seems like it's been just a comedy of errors for me in the Classic. In most tournaments, you can get corrected after making an error. Here, you get off to a bad start and it seems like you can never get corrected in time.
"And with the two-day (elimination) format, if you don't get off to a good start, you're out. There have been a lot of tournaments in the past where I've really lit them up the third day and come back to win after being down. But that can't happen here."
One of the Classic rookies also ranks as the heavy pre-tournament favorite because he lives across Lake Ponchartrain from New Orleans and knows the Delta as intimately as most people know their backyards. For Roger Boler, that could be a double whammy of pressure and big-event inexperience.
But you would never know that by listening to the 43-year-old pro, who has only been fishing tournaments - of any kind - for five years.
"Some people think that I'm (the pre-Classic favorite), but home-field advantage isn't always a good thing," Boler said. "Some of my friends are getting caught up in all of that, but I'm not. Any of the guys that are fishing in the Classic can win a tournament at any given time and any given place. These guys are good.
"I'll be honest with you, even in the six days of (pre-Classic) practice, I didn't really have anything concrete going. The best fishing during practice was late in the evening on a falling tide, and I just didn't feel comfortable with it. I think it's going to be tough. I'm just going to go do something that I'm comfortable doing in an area where I'm comfortable fishing and hope things turn out for the best."
On Thursday, Chevy Trucks officials recognized the two newest members of the BASS millionaires club - Klein and fellow Texan Jay Yelas - the defending Classic champion.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 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 Outboards, Mercury Marine, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Kumho Tires, Progressive Insurance, Abu Garcia, Berkley, Diamond Cut Jeans, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, and BankOne.
Associate Sponsors include Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning 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.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (504) 304-2563.
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