Amateur Anglers fish for Bassmaster Classic Berth

Bryan Schmidt gets to defend his titleWhen it comes to bass fishing, Ron Cherkas of Grimes, Iowa, has two lifetime ambitions: to qualify for a Bassmaster Classic and the Bassmaster Elite Series. His chance will come Oct. 28-30, when he and 54 other anglers compete in the Bassmaster Federation Nation on the Harris Chain of Lakes out of Tavares, Fla.

Bryan Schmidt returns for another shot at a classic birthWhen it comes to bass fishing, Ron Cherkas of Grimes, Iowa, has two lifetime ambitions: to qualify for a Bassmaster Classic and the Bassmaster Elite Series.

His chance will come Oct. 28-30, when he and 54 other anglers compete in the Bassmaster Federation Nation Championship presented by Yamaha Outboards and Skeeter Boats, on the Harris Chain of Lakes out of Tavares, Fla.

“I’ve been trying to do this for a long time,” said Cherkas, 61, a BASS Federation Nation member since 1979 and owner of a digital printing firm that he says in 1999 was the first to wrap a bass boat. “I want to win this championship, and I would just love to make the Elites.”

Like most other qualifiers, Cherkas made it to the 2009 championship by advancing through layers of local, state and regional Federation Nation tournaments. He emerged as the top angler from Iowa, one of 47 states represented. Six other anglers on the roster are international entrants; they’re from Canada, Mexico, Japan, Italy, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Rounding out the field of 55 are defending champion Bryan Schmidt of Olney, Texas; and John Clark of Bossier City, La., the Paralyzed Veterans of America 2009 Open Angler of the Year. A full list can be found below.

Cherkas will have to outfish them all to claim the winner’s prize, an invitation to the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series and a Skeeter/Yamaha boat rig valued at $63,250. The winner also will score a Classic berth by way of a victory in their respective division. In each of six divisions, the top angler will earn a berth in the 2010 Classic, set for Feb. 19-21 on Lay Lake out of Birmingham, Ala.

So to get to the Classic, Cherkas will have to boat more pounds of bass through three days than any of the other eight anglers in the Northern Division.

As Cherkas is from Iowa, Florida fisheries aren’t his strong suit, but he has plenty of experience figuring out different lakes and rivers through his years of competing on the Bassmaster Open trail. He said he had never seen the Harris Chain until he scouted it just before the official off-limits period went into effect Sept. 25.

Based on what he saw during his 10 days on the nine-lake chain, he estimated 44 pounds would take the title.

“I think the main patterns are going to be fishing drops, shellfish beds and brushpiles,” he said. “This could be done on Griffin, and probably the Harris lakes, with either a jig or a Carolina rig.”

Schmidt, the defending champion, had an automatic entry into the 2009 championship. He’s hoping it will lead to a second Classic experience. It would be hard to top his first, a sixth-place finish at the 2009 Classic on the Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La.

“I would love to make it two in a row,” said Schmidt, 39. “It was a dream come true that I even qualified for the first one. And to make a second one would be unreal.”

He said he squeezed in a week of scouting on Harris this past summer, between his job in Texas working for a maker of crop dusters and his first year competing in the Bassmaster Opens.

“Harris fishes to some of my strengths,” Schmidt said. “I believe I’ll be in the areas where the fish are, and if I can execute well, I will put them in the boat.

“I think there will be a couple of patterns that can produce bigger fish, but those same patterns won’t produce limits. We’ll see multiple techniques — flipping, cranking, throwing spinnerbaits. Bigger fish will come off topwaters or flipping.”

For Mike Wolfenden, of Warwick, R.I., the Federation Nation Championship in Tavares will be his fourth. He won the 2009 Eastern Divisional as well as state honors. A 39-year-old UPS employee, Wolfenden said he has won 87 tournaments since he began competing at age 18, but he’s still looking for a pass to the Classic.

This could be his year, as he said he has competed several times on Florida fisheries, so his comfort level is high.

“I went down there about three weeks ago and practiced for a week,” he said. “I tried to get an overview so that during official practice I’ll be able to narrow down where I should spend most of my time.”

The 55 championship competitors will have three days of practice before the tournament begins Wednesday, Oct. 28. The full field will compete for three days.

Launches, at 7:30 a.m. ET daily, and weigh-ins, at 3:45 p.m., will be at Wooten Park, 200 S. Rockingham Ave., Tavares. Fans can watch live, streaming video of all three days of weigh-ins at, along with real-time leaderboards. Daily standings, stories and photo galleries also will be available at

Also during the same week, the Junior Bassmaster World Championship and will take place on nearby Lake Yale. Kids in two age divisions (11-14, 15-18) will weigh their bass at 3:45 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30, on the Federation Nation Championship stage in Tavares.

Also to be played out will be the Bassmaster CastingKids National Championship. Kids in two age groups ( 7-10, 11-14 ) will cast, pitch and flip to targets. The CastingKids finals will begin at noon Friday, Oct. 30, at the Lake Sumter Community College gymnasium in Leesburg, Fla.

Youth prizes will include trophies and scholarships.

All BASS events are free and open to the public.

2009 BASS Federation Nation Championship presented by Yamaha Outboards and Skeeter Boats

*2009 Divisional winner


Bryan Schmidt, Olney, Texas

John Clark, Bossier City, La.

ALABAMA: Kenneth Pannell, Springville, Ala.
FLORIDA: David Boyd, Quincy, Fla.
GEORGIA: Chris Neely, Chattahoochee, Fla.
KENTUCKY: Brandon Card, Lexington, Ky.
NORTH CAROLINA: Chuck Murray, Louisburg, N.C.*
SOUTH CAROLINA: Brent Long, Cornelius, N.C.
SOUTH AFRICA: Justy Varkevisser, Johannesburg
TENNESSEE: Ben Parker, Union City, Tenn.

ARIZONA: Jeff Guerrette, Glendale, Ariz.
CALIFORNIA: Nick Wood, Yreka, Calif.
COLORADO: Matt Massey, Lakewood, Colo.
IDAHO: Owen Lounsbury, St. Maries, Idaho
JAPAN: Mamoru Suzuki, Tokyo
MONTANA: Leroy Starling, Whitefish, Mont.
NEW MEXICO: Chuck Rizuto, Navajo Dam, N.M.
NEVADA: Ben Grande, Las Vegas
OREGON: Byron Chaves, Salem, Ore.*
UTAH: Paul Reutlinger, West Jordan, Utah
WASHINGTON: Don Hogue, Pasco, Wash.
WYOMING: Samuel Russell, Salt Lake City

ARKANSAS: Jared Taliaferro, Rogers, Ark.
KANSAS: Mark Warner, Overland Park, Kan.
LOUISIANA: Samuel Anthony, Independence, La.
MEXICO: Cesar Madrigal, San Luis Potosi
MISSISSIPPI: Jay Ladner, Kiln, Miss.
MISSOURI: Russell Matt, St. Joseph, Mo.
NEBRASKA: Richard Risewick, Norton, Kan.*
OKLAHOMA: John Soukup, Agra, Okla.
TEXAS: Tom Jessop, Dalhart, Texas

DELAWARE: Don Denault, Delmar, Md.
MARYLAND: Brett Quader, Pasadena, Md.
NEW JERSEY: Scott Weiland, Saddle Brook, N.J.
PENNSYLVANIA: Tim Dolon, Cherryville, Pa.
VIRGINIA: Jeff Freeman, Max Meadows, Va.*
WEST VIRGINIA: Rick Hamer, Charleston, W.Va.
ZIMBABWE: Gerry Jooste, Harare

CONNECTICUT: Al Gambardella, North Haven, Conn.
MAINE: Mark Desjardin, Vassalboro, Maine
MASSACHUSETTS: Randy Phillips, Oxford, Mass.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Tyler Hanatow, Alstead, N.H.
NEW YORK: Joe Matt, Syracuse, N.Y.
ONTARIO, CANADA: Dave Johnson, Keswick
RHODE ISLAND: Mike Wolfenden, Warwick, R.I.*
VERMONT: Skip Sjobeck, Randolph, Vt.

ILLINOIS: Gerald Sobkowiak, Granville, Ill.
INDIANA: Brian Hensley, Edwardsburg, Mich.
IOWA: Ron Cherkas, Grimes, Iowa
ITALY: Jacopo Gallelli, Firenze
MICHIGAN: Brandon Rose, Saginaw, Mich.
MINNESOTA: Randy Wieczorek, Buffalo City, Wis.
OHIO: Jody Adkins, North Canton, Ohio
SOUTH DAKOTA: Shane Cowen, Pierre, S.D.
WISCONSIN: Wes Haney, Baldwin, Wis.*

ALABAMA: Kenneth Pannell, Springville
ARIZONA: Jeff Guerrette, Glendale
ARKANSAS: Jared Taliaferro, Rogers
CALIFORNIA: Nick Wood, Yreka
COLORADO: Matt Massey, Lakewood
CONNECTICUT: Al Gambardella
FLORIDA: David Boyd, Quincy
FLORIDA: Chris Neely, Chattahoochee (representing Georgia)
IDAHO: Owen Lounsbury, St. Maries
ILLINOIS: Gerald Sobkowiak, Granville
IOWA: Ron Cherkas, Grimes
KANSAS: Mark Warner, Overland Park
KANSAS: Richard Risewick, Norton* (representing Nebraska)
KENTUCKY: Brandon Card, Lexington
LOUISIANA: Samuel Anthony, Independence
LOUISIANA: John Clark, Bossier City (representing PVA)
MAINE: Mark Desjardin, Vassalboro
MARYLAND: Brett Quader, Pasadena
MARYLAND Don Denault, Delmar (representing Delaware):
MASSACHUSETTS: Randy Phillips, Oxford
MICHIGAN: Brandon Rose, Saginaw
MICHIGAN: Brian Hensley, Edwardsburg (representing Indiana)
WISCONSIN: Randy Wieczorek, Buffalo City (representing Minnesota)
MISSISSIPPI: Jay Ladner, Kiln
MISSOURI: Russell Matt, St. Joseph
MONTANA: Leroy Starling, Whitefish
NEVADA: Ben Grande, Las Vegas
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Tyler Hanatow, Alstead
NEW JERSEY: Scott Weiland, Saddle Brook
NEW MEXICO: Chuck Rizuto, Navajo Dam
NEW YORK: Joe Matt, Syracuse
NORTH CAROLINA: Chuck Murray, Louisburg*
NORTH CAROLINA: Brent Long, Cornelius (representing South Carolina)
OHIO: Jody Adkins, North Canton
OKLAHOMA: John Soukup, Agra
OREGON: Byron Chaves, Salem*
PENNSYLVANIA: Tim Dolon, Cherryville
RHODE ISLAND: Mike Wolfenden, Warwick*
SOUTH DAKOTA: Shane Cowen, Pierre
TENNESSEE: Ben Parker, Union City
TEXAS: Tom Jessop, Dalhart, Texas
TEXAS: Schmidt, Bryan Olney, Texas (defending champion)
UTAH: Paul Reutlinger, West Jordan
UTAH: Samuel Russell, Salt Lake City (representing Wyoming)
VERMONT: Skip Sjobeck, Randolph
VIRGINIA: Jeff Freeman, Max Meadows*
WASHINGTON: Don Hogue, Pasco
WEST VIRGINIA: Rick Hamer, Charleston
WISCONSIN: Wes Haney, Baldwin*

MEXICO: Cesar Madrigal, San Luis Potosi
ITALY: Jacopo Gallelli, Firenze
JAPAN: Mamoru Suzuki, Tokyo
ONTARIO, CANADA: Dave Johnson, Keswick
SOUTH AFRICA: Justy Varkevisser, Johannesburg
ZIMBABWE: Gerry Jooste, Harare

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