Contenders in the annual Federation Championship endured a grueling, year-long elimination process to reach the pivotal event. They include representatives from Federation chapters in 47 states, Japan, South Africa, Italy, Zimbabwe and Canada. The championship field is rounded out by Doug Moore of Van Buren, Ark., winner of the Paralyzed Veterans of America Grand National Championship, along with defending champion Ed Cowan of Greeley, Pa.
Cowan, who won the 2005 Federation Championship last spring on Florida’s Lake Tohopekaliga, and Gerry Jooste of Zimbabwe are making a record seventh appearance in the event.
At stake is a share of a $50,000 pot and six invitations to the prestigious CITGO Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 24-26 on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla., where the winner takes home $500,000. Cowan, who battled in last year’s Classic in Pittsburgh, finished in 40th place, while Jooste finished 42nd.
Although Florida winters are typically unpredictable, conditions could be ripe for an eye-opening championship in terms of big-bass action, according to Bobby Lane.
Lane should know. The 31-year-old Lakeland Bassmasters club member is the lone Florida angler in the tournament, as well as a veteran fisherman on the Harris Chain.
“It could definitely happen,” Lane said. “The full moon will be occurring when we’re there. They couldn’t have put the tournament at a better time for the Harris Chain. As long as the sun comes out and it’s warm, the fishing will be great. If the weather is right, the fish will be spawning and we’ll see some giant bass come in.
“You might see some 18- and 19-pound limits, and if the weather really is good, we could see anywhere from a 25- to 32-pound sack come in. But if we get a miserable cold front and the wind starts blowing, big stringers will be pretty much out of the question.”
Lane predicts the winning weight in the three-day tournament will be “between 55 and 70 pounds at least. It could be an 80-pound tournament if the fishing is just outstanding. But if the weather is bad, I can see it taking as little as 35 to 45 to win.”
As the angler most familiar with the Harris Chain, Lane was asked if he holds an advantage over the field.
“I think I do have an advantage living here, since there will be fishermen from all over that have never seen the lake,” he said. “And it’s a huge chain so they couldn’t cover it all in the week of pre-practice we had (before the lakes went off-limits). I have a little advantage, but you don’t get to the championship by pure luck. All of these guys worked hard to get where we are and we all deserve to win. Somebody’s going to win it, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be me.”
If recent wintertime BASS tournaments on the Harris Chain are any indication, big bass could prove to be the rule instead of the exception.
Last February, Florida’s Peter Thliveros won the second CITGO Bassmaster Tour on the Harris Chain with 69 pounds, 5 ounces. A pair of 11-pound bass and 20-pound-plus stringers highlighted the tournament.
In a January 2004 event, winner Marty Stone’s catch totaled 61-12. And two 10-pounders took daily Purolator Big Bass honors.
The winner of the Federation Championship and the top anglers from each of the remaining five geographical divisions will earn a ticket to the upcoming Classic. They also receive automatic qualification into one of the two 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Tour circuits. And the angler with the heaviest single-day catch will earn a spot in the coveted BUSCH Shootout.
The no-entry-fee tournament will feature a five-bass daily limit and the full field will fish all three days. Daily launches and weigh-ins will take place at the Venetian Gardens Community Center on Lake Harris in Leesburg.
Coverage of the event will air on Saturday, Jan. 21 at 10 a.m. EST on ESPN2. It will reair on Jan. 27 at 7 a.m. and again on Jan. 30 at noon.
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.
For more information, call BASS Communications at 407-566-2208. To join BASS, visit www.bassmaster.com or call 1-800-BASS-USA.
2006 BASS Federation Championship Participants
Ed Cowan, Greeley, Pa.
Greg Vinson, Wetumpka, Ala.
Dave Mehalechko, Glendale Ariz.
Zackary King, Clarksville, Ark.
Mark Schroeder, Red Bluff, Calif.
Joe Conway, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Greg Lownds, Danbury, Conn.
Greg Alexander, Hebron, Md.
Bobby Lane, Lakeland, Fla.
Gary Thompson, Hiram, Ga.
Dusty Womack, Caldwell, Idaho
Fred Myers, Bloomington, Ill.
Ron Nale, Milltown, Ind.
Steven Houdek, Calmar, Iowa
Kevin Miller, Augusta, Kansas
Bill Lowen, Cincinnatti, Ohio
James Kennedy, Lacombe, La.
Steven Harris, South China, Maine
Kevin Waterman, LaPlata, Md.
Roger Bogosh, Attleboro, Mass
Paul Soma, Traverse City, Mich.
Jim Severson, Breezy Point, Minn.
Randy Haynes, Starkville, Miss.
Luke Payne, Warsaw, Mo.
Curtis Spindler, Missoula, Mt.
Danny Shanz, Adamstown, Md.
Alex Franks, Boystown, Neb.
Scott Parker, Londonberry, N.H.
Bob Soley, Ewing, N.J.
Mark Adams, Edgewood, New Mexico
Matthew Sphar, Pavilion, N.Y.
Michael Williams, Leland, N.C.
Joe Hanning, Millfield, Ohio
Lee Sanders, Stillwater, Okla.
Garrett Green, Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada
Gary Yexley, Wilsonville. Ore.
Daniel Gray, Butler, Pa.
Doug Moore, Van Buren, Ark.
Joel St Germain, Cumberland. R.I.
Nelson Walker, Manning, S.C. 40
Gary Steichen, Woonsocket. S.D.
Steve Blocker, Harrogate, Tenn.
Tom Jessop, Dalhart, Texas
Rob Johnson, Murray, Utah
Sean Alvarez, Rutland, Vermont
Steve Roberts, Lynchburg, Va.
Marc Lippincott, Spokane, Wash.
Kevin Goff, New Martinsville, W.Va.
Jimmy Johnson, LaCrosse, Wisc.
Bill Golightly, Preston, Idaho
Kentarou Yamada , Japan
Anre De Villiers, South Africa
Alessandro Debbi, Italy
Gerry Jooste, Zimbabwe