Who are the only two anglers to qualify three times for the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer through the BASS Federation system?
Answer: Jeff Boyer and Gerry Jooste.
Boyer, a 54-year-old manager of a paving company in Auburn, Wash., and his South African counterpart share what knowledgeable fishermen know is an impressive distinction. Earning a ticket to the Classic as one of the five amateur representatives requires surviving a grueling qualification process.
"It's extremely tough," said Boyer, who will be representing the Western Division in Classic XXXIV in Charlotte, July 30-Aug. 1. "Everything's got to go right. It's single elimination every time you get in the boat. There's no room for error."
To qualify, Boyer first had to earn one of 12 berths on his state BASS Federation team through a rigorous local system. Last year at the BASS Federation Western Divisional, he outfished his 11 teammates to be the top angler on his team. And in April, he beat another nine anglers to become the Western Division's representative at the Classic.
The other four Federation anglers who will be in Charlotte sharing the dream of joining the late Bryan Kerchal as the only amateurs to even win the Classic are:
-Thad Takes, a 36-year-old project manager for an Idaho electrical contractor, who won the CITGO BASS Federation Championship presented by Busch Beer.
-George Accord, 40, a partner in a Pennsylvania tackle company who will be making his second Classic appearance via the Federation.
-Alabama's Russ Lane, 31, the owner of a wholesale automotive company.
-William Pippen, 67, a retired construction superintendent from Crosset, Ark.
Boyer qualified for Classics in 1985, '90 and now '04.
"I wish I knew the secret," he joked. "It wouldn't have taken me 14 years to make it back.
"I'm thrilled, to be sure. It's always been a goal of mine. After I made the first one in '85 I made a goal that I wanted to make it back to the Classic at least two more times. I never thought it would take quite this long to do it, but I'm glad to be back."
Boyer took a six-year hiatus from competing in Federation tournaments to host a television fishing show and then compete in the CITGO Bassmaster Opens in the West.
The veteran angler has good feelings about his third Classic appearance.
"It's been (won by a Federation angler) before so, yeah, nobody should be surprised if it happens this year," Boyer said. "But, still, it would be a big, big deal. It's been a while.
"I'm realistic, but I'm coming to win. Anybody that's not coming to win isn't coming for the right reasons.
"I feel pretty good about it even though I haven't even been there yet because my prior two Classics happened to be on the James River and Arkansas River the year following a prior Classic on the same waters. That really puts a guy behind the eight ball when he has to learn the water and the other guys have been there the year before.
"This one is wide open since BASS hasn't been (to Lake Wylie) since '82. I like my chances better now. Plus, I'm a little older and a little wiser."
In contrast, Thad Takes will be making his first Classic appearance. In fact, he has never even attended fishing's Big Show as a spectator.
"I really haven't talked to anybody about the Classic," Takes admitted. "I've never been to a Classic, but I'm sure there's a lot of hype and stuff. I'm sure it will be exciting. The atmosphere will be more than I've ever experienced obviously. I'm just going to try to ignore it and just go fishing when I get the opportunity.
"I think about winning it. I've never been to North Carolina before, let alone fish on any body of water there. If the fish are active, I'll find a pattern that works for me. I'm generally pretty good at sorting out the little from the big, so maybe I can get on some big ones.
"I can't be anything but optimistic. And I don't mind competing against the big pros and all of the names. It's water and fish and all the simple things, really."
Make no mistake about it; the Federation Classic contingent includes some talented anglers. You can't survive the lengthy Federation elimination route to reach the coveted Classic without being both smart and capable.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer, which includes the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 series, 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, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Local Sponsors include the Charlotte Regional Sports Commission, Visit Charlotte, the Auditorium-Coliseum-Convention Center Authority, the Rock Hill Sports and Tourism Council and Time Warner Cable.