36th CITGO Bassmaster Classic was a Huge Success

Inside BASS

By now you are probably well aware that 27-year-old (Cool Hand) Luke Clausen won the 36th annual CITGO Bassmaster Classic Sunday and took the $500,000 winner’s purse and the most important title in professional fishing back home to the state of Washington.

But there were several other winners at the Kissimmee, Fla., championship tournament, as well:

• BASS boss Don Rucks, a visionary who has had the most slings and arrows come his way in the last 18 months or so since the days of General Custer, looks like a genius for moving the world-championship event from summer to early spring. Naysayers predicted a poor turnout — citing among other issues the notion that youngsters would be in school and unable to attend. But Rucks’ vision for the Bassmaster Classic materialized in grand style with giant bass, enthusiastic capacity crowds and an intriguing Classic competition.

• BASS fans both in attendance and following the tournament from home were winners. The crowds that turned the Orange County Convention Center into a giant boom box each day got to witness the biggest bass and largest catches in Bassmaster Classic history. And those at home certainly felt like they had front-row seats through ESPN’s various media platforms — 14 hours of televised coverage, continuous Web updates and Internet radio on Bassmaster.com and ESPNOutdoors.com, streaming video on BASS INSIDER and the new Mobile ESPN, the ultimate sports communication device.

• Preston Clark, the other local pro from Palatka, Fla., in the Bassmaster Classic was a winner. Clark, 41, was greatly overshadowed by his former team-tournament partner Terry Scroggins. While Scroggins was the heavy favorite, Clark was an unfamiliar name to most fishing fans. As a result, he flew under the radar until the opening round at the Classic, when he posted a five-bass 29-pound, 1-ounce limit that included an 11-pound, 10-ounce largemouth — smashing Ricky Green’s 30-year-old record for the largest Classic bass (8 pounds, 9 ounces).

•Lake Tohopekaliga, the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and the local fishing fans also were winners. The hometown fans came out in full force (a capacity crowd of 10,019 watched the finals; 21,742 attended the three weigh-ins; and more than 62,000 participated in some Bassmaster Classic function). And the Kissimmee Chain kicked out record-breaking bass: five pros eclipsed Paul Elias’ 1993 single-day record of 21½ pounds set on Lake Logan Martin (Clausen, Clark, Scroggins, Edwin Evers and Kevin Wirth), and Clausen established a Classic record for a three-day tournament with a winning total of 56 pounds, 2 ounces.

It was simply a superb Bassmaster Classic.

MORE CLARK. Lost in the Bassmaster Classic excitement is the fact that Clark became the second qualifier for the 2006 BUSCH Shootout — a lucrative, small-field, specialty event that pays $100,000 to the winner. The Shootout matches the pros with the largest single-day catches during the 2006 season.

Clausen’s opening-round salvo weighing 29-6 was the Classic’s heaviest, but he opted not to participate in the highly desirable event.

A CLASSIC ‘BOO’. Mine goes to the folks at Yamaha for their tacky marketing tactics in Kissimmee. A large saltwater boat bearing the Yamaha logo kept moving back and forth in the background of the BassCenter set during a live ESPN2 broadcast.

For the record, Mercury Marine is the outboard sponsor of the Bassmaster Classic.

FIRE STARTER. Fifty of the 51 Bassmaster Classic pros took advantage of the official three-day scouting period on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes the week before the event. Greg Gutierrez was the exception.

A full-time firefighter in Red Bluff, Calif., his station house was undergoing a state recertification process and all of his vacation time had been postponed. Gutierrez was asked if his absence put him at a sizeable disadvantage entering Classic XXXVI.

“Just talking with some of the guys, no, as far as what the fish are doing, but, yes, in the fact that I’ve only been to these lakes once,” he replied. “It would have been nice to see the lakes more and cover a little bit more water … and know where the mats are, so I could go back and re-check them.

“But I went out (during the lone practice round) and located some fish for the tournament.”

Gutierrez, 44, who finished 41st, will somehow manage to fish the 11-tournament CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series and maintain his job as a fireman.

“I’m just going to fly back and forth,” he said. “I made arrangements for my work schedule. I’ll work a little extra one or two weeks in a row, and then I’ll use those days to go off to fish the tour.”

WEIRDEST CATCH. One of the numerous slang terms for a largemouth bass is bucketmouth.

Dave Wolak of Pennsylvania gave the moniker a new meaning a few years ago when he hooked, played and landed an actual bucket while fishing the Hudson River.

“I actually thought it was a fish because I hooked it by the handle (on a jig) in current,” the reigning Toyota Rookie of the Year said. “It put up a good fight. I set the hook on it like an animal and played it like it was a big fish in the current. Nobody was watching me, but I embarrassed myself.”

The whole episode reminds us of the term buckethead.

DID YOU KNOW? With his DQ last week, Michael Iaconelli has the dubious distinction of being the only angler to get disqualified in two Bassmaster Classics (2004 was the other).

IF I HADN’T BECOME A BASS PRO … “I would probably still be painting houses and hanging wallpaper. That’s where I came from,” said Bassmaster Classic competitor and CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship winner Mike McClelland.

THEY SAID IT. “The Elite Series is going to be a new professional level. We’re past the point of a pro being somebody that can simply hook a boat to a pickup, show up at the ramp and pay an entry fee. We’re past the point of sponsor exemptions. You’ve got to earn the right and all of you guys have earned that right. … You need to have the attitude that you’re the best in the industry. And this is the best circuit in the industry.” - Don Rucks to the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series pros attending a special banquet held during the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic week

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BASS is the worldwide authority on bass fishing, sanctioning more than 20,000 events through the BASS Federation annually. Guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans, BASS sets the standard for credibility, professionalism, sportsmanship and conservation, as it has for nearly 40 years.

BASS stages bass fishing tournaments for every skill level and culminates with the CITGO Bassmaster Classic. Through its clubs, youth programs, aquatic resource advocacy, magazine publishing and multimedia platforms, BASS offers the industry's widest array of services and support to its nearly 550,000 members. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.

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