A tight field of anglers is locked in competition for the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year title that will be settled at Santee, a fishery that has earned a reputation for massive catches.
The two top contenders for the $111,550 grand prize are Arkansas rookies Scott Suggs and Alabama veteran Gerald Swindle, separated by a mere 13 points. The race between them is so tight that if Swindle finishes even slightly higher than Suggs on Santee, he could very well upset the leaderboard. The pressure is nearly too much for the pair to handle.
"I've been having a very bad (practice)," Suggs said. "I can't seem to catch them staging, but I'm looking at them. They're on the beds, but I can't seem to get them to bite. I'm hoping the conditions change and they get a little more aggressive.
"I'm not too nervous, though, because I went into Eufaula and only caught one fish in practice and did well there. I finished 15th there and look how far I came up in the points. I would take a 15th here and take my chances and let the cards fall where they may. Right now it's out of my control. I just hope nothing bad happens and I fall out of it."
Swindle has a different approach: avoiding the subject at all costs. Like a big-league pitcher on a hot streak, the notoriously outgoing Swindle had little to say about the race.
"I'm not making any predictions," Swindle said. "I'm just going to go fishing. My main objective is catching enough to win the event. I think they're going to catch a lot of fish. I never say I'm going to until the event is over, though. I'm going to try not to think about the Angler of the Year. I have been thinking about it, though, and I'm sure Scott has, too, but I'm not making any predictions."
The other big buzz in the BASS world is last week's Tour event runner-up. Idaho rookie Bink Desaro jumped onto the scene, with a second place finish on Lake Eufaula, a scant 3 ounces behind tournament winner Denny Brauer. Desaro, who has already qualified for the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Classic by winning the Western Open series, is still walking on sunshine after cutting a much needed $40,000 check.
"I'm still geared up from last week," Desaro said from his practice waters, "but it's going to take a lot to follow that up. I have to forget about last week. Staying focused is going to be the big thing. I'm just going to go out and fish, though, because the conditions are going to change. I've been fishing pre-spawn in practice. I'm sure there are going to be bedding fish, but I haven't been looking for them.
"I'm not going to sight fish. I'm probably going to go flipping again. Practice has been a little slow. I had four bites yesterday, though, and I didn't get on the water until about 2:00. Right now I'm just going out on the water and have a good time and enjoying it. This is kind of my relaxation time."
Desaro and others will not be relaxing for long, however, as the competition begins Thursday morning. Launch will be at 6 a.m. from the John C. Land III Landing with weigh-ins taking place at the landing, beginning at 2:45.
Fans can catch the finale of the CITGO Bassmaster Tour presented by Busch Beer on the Santee Cooper Lakes, Saturday, April 3 at 10:30 a.m. ET/9:30 a.m. CT on ESPN2.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. This April, BASS introduces the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 Series, a four-event, no-entry-fee circuit featuring a $1.6 million prize purse for the world's best anglers. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer 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 Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Associate Sponsors include G3 Boats and Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning.
Local Sponsors include Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.