With the 38th Bassmaster Classic less than a month away, the pressure is on for the field of 50 contenders in bass fishing’s most prestigious event.
The Feb. 22-24 Classic out of Greenville, S.C., puts the world’s best anglers on the vast Savannah River impoundment of Lake Hartwell to compete head-to-head for $1.2 million, including a $500,000 first prize and the most coveted title: Bassmaster Classic Champion.
Fans can follow the competition by attending the daily launches and weigh-ins, tuning in to ESPN2 and by logging on to http://www.Bassmaster.com.
Launches are set for 7:15 a.m. ET, Feb. 22-24, at Lake Hartwell’s Portman Marina. The weigh-ins at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville will begin each day at 3:30 p.m. ET, and admission is free.
ESPN2 will devote 11 hours to Classic programming over the three days of competition, and http://www.Bassmaster.com will provide extensive hourly coverage. The site will also provide live, streaming video of the weigh-ins.
As the defending champion, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Boyd Duckett of Demopolis, Ala., was the first entry in the 2008 Classic. The next 36 spots were earned by the top pros in the Bassmaster Elite Series’ 2007 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race.
Six other Classic contenders won their berths through the two Bassmaster Open circuits. From the BASS Federation Nation Championship emerged another six. Completing the field was the winner of the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Weekend Series Championship operated by American Bass Anglers.
Duckett was the first angler to win a Classic in his home state, and he had to beat eight other Alabama contenders to do it. This year, only two Classic participants can claim a home-state advantage: Elite pros Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., and Todd Auten of Lake Wylie, S.C.
Ashley said he has fished Lake Hartwell since he was 10, long enough to know that fickle February weather can throw a wrench into the fishery.
“It can be snowing, or it can be 80 degrees with fish on the bed. You just never know because it can change daily, ” he said. “So I go into it just like everybody else. It’s anybody’s ballgame. But knowing the lake well does help, because as the weather changes you know where to go and can figure something out.”
Duckett is confident about his chances for back-to-back Classic victories, a feat accomplished only once before, in 1976 and 1977 by Elite pro Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo.
Duckett said he liked what he saw in his two early December scouting trips to Lake Hartwell before the off-limits period began Dec. 15. “It sets up well for me,” he said. “The topography, water and the way the fish set up seem to be very similar to Lake Martin, an Alabama lake I’ve fished a lot.
“And I certainly like the high-pressure events — the events I won last year were high-profile, high-pressure events.”
Besides Duckett, the 2008 field includes three past champions: Elite pros Kevin VanDam of Michigan (2001, 2005); Takahiro Omori of Texas (2004); and Michael Iaconelli of New Jersey (2003).
Elite pro Gary Klein of Weatherford, Texas, reigns among those with Classic experience. Next month’s Classic will be his 26th. Five other Elite pros can claim double-digit years of Classic qualifying: VanDam, going into his 18th; Tommy Biffle of Oklahoma, his 15th; Peter Thliveros of Florida, his 12th; Texan Alton Jones, his 11th; and Mike Wurm of Arkansas, his 10th.
On the other end of the scale are 15 Classic rookies. Among them are several pros with multiple Elite seasons under their belts: Charlie Hartley of Ohio; Kevin Short of Arkansas; Fred Roumbanis of Oklahoma; and Chris Lane of Florida.
Ashley and New York’s Matthew Sphar are the only two who qualified for their first Classic in their rookie year on the Elite trail. For 2007 Elite rookie Derek Remitz of Madison, Ala., the 2008 Classic will be his second.
For four other Classic rookies, the Greenville competition kicks off their first year as Elite pros: Auten, Arkansan Clark Reehm, Oklahoman Jay Fuller and Floridian Bobby Lane.
Six of the rookies are BASS Federation Nation anglers. Although amateurs, they have years of BASS club competition experience. The fishing world will be watching Federation contenders closely to see if one of them can repeat the 1994 win by the late Bryan Kerchal. He was a 23-year-old Federation contender who stands as the only Federation Nation angler to win a Classic trophy.
For a full list of 2008 Classic contenders, see http://www.bassmaster.com .