Star-Studded Lineup Locked Into a Tight Final Round

PITTSBURGH — Keeper-size Three Rivers bass have proven to be somewhat rare commodities in the first two rounds of the 35th annual CITGO Bassmaster Classic. But the struggle is being overshadowed by the dramatic battle involving some of the sport's biggest names that is shaping up for Sunday's final round.  

Although reigning CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year Aaron Martens has the lead after two rounds, the next seven closest pursuers are within 2 pounds and include some of the most accomplished of today's pros, including Michael Iaconelli, Kevin VanDam, Gerald Swindle, Skeet Reese and George Cochran.  

It is a fishing fan's dream finish, regardless of the underwhelming weights involved.  

Martens, the California transplant whiz kid now living in Alabama, is in position to become just the second reigning Angler of the Year to follow-up with a Classic victory. In 1995, Arkansas' Mark Davis was the first accomplish that lucrative feat. Martens moved into the lead thanks to a four-bass catch weighing 4 pounds Saturday that lifted his two-day total to 9 pounds, 1 ounce.  

The fact that if Martens wins, he is likely to break the record for the lowest Classic winning weight (15 pounds, 5 ounces caught by Cochran in 1987) hasn't entered his mind.  

“It would be a dream year,” Martens said of winning the sport's two biggest titles in the same year. “It'd be a year that you could only dream about. It would be awesome.”  

Of his scant 14-ounce lead, Martens said, “That's a whole fish in these waters. I'm not comfortable by any means, but I'm going to just go out and concentrate on catching five keepers. It's so hard to get a big fish here.”  

Martens has finished second in his previous two Classic appearances. “This is the first time I've led the Classic,” he said. “I'd like to get rid of that second place.”  

Standing in Martens' way is a pair of Classic winners — Iaconelli (2003) and VanDam (2001).  

Iaconelli — a New Jersey angler who once lived in south Philly and a clear favorite of the Mellon Arena crowd of 10,520 — moved into second place (8-3) with four tiny smallmouth that combined to weigh 3-12 Saturday.  

“It's going to be exciting,” Iaconelli said. “This is going to be one of the closest Classics in the history of the event. It's going to come down to whoever catches a limit tomorrow.”  

Although the leaders were typically secretive about their techniques, Martens and Iaconelli are targeting bridges in the downtown Pittsburgh area.  

Neither pro can feel comfortable with VanDam close behind with 8-2. A member of the BASS millionaire club, the Michigan pro is a three-time Angler of the Year and former Classic champion who knows how to close out victories in the final hours.  

VanDam believes the $200,000 prize and most-important title in fishing is likely to be decided early on Sunday, before the boat traffic picks up.  

“Being Sunday, a lot of people will be in church or doing family things in the morning,” he said. “You need to catch them early, because after about lunchtime it's going to get crowded out there.”  

Jeff Reynolds of Oklahoma is fourth with 8-1, followed by Arkansas' Scott Rook at 7-15. Just behind them are 2004 Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle (7-12), California's Skeet Reese (7-8 pounds) and two-time Classic champion George Cochran (7-6).  

Reynolds earned the $1,000 prize for the Purolator Big Bass Award with a puny 1-pound, 15-ounce bass — easily the smallest big-bass winner in Classic history. The previous record holder was Roger Farmer of Dalton, Ga., with a 2?-pound big bass during the 1983 Classic.  

For Sunday's final, the 47-man field has been narrowed to 25.  

The 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Classic will receive unprecedented coverage on ESPN and ESPN2 this year. A total of 12 hours of programming will be devoted to Classic tournament coverage July 29-31.  

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. Coming in 2006 are an expanded Tour schedule to 11 events, three Majors tournaments and the Women’s Bassmaster Tour.