BASS Reporter’s Notebook

An easy Classic?
Like most CITGO Bassmaster Classic contenders, Louisiana pro Greg Hackney is excited about the prospects of fishing Lake Tohopekaliga later this month. It’s a well known producer of high-quality bass in abundant numbers. But Hackney also is eager for Toho for another reason – it will allow him to forget about his dismal finish in last year’s Bassmaster Classic at Pittsburgh.

Hackney didn’t weigh a fish and finished in a six-way tie for last place. He said the difference between fishing Toho and fishing the Three Rivers couldn’t be any bigger. In fact, Hackney calls Toho fishing “easy.”

“All of the tournaments are won in 5 feet or less, and it’s a lot of heavy cover,” he said. “To me, that’s simple. The fish live in the vegetation, and you just have to find where they are.”

Hot start for Balon Less than six weeks into the calendar year, and already 2006 has been a good year for Florida angler Mike Balon.

A regular competitor in the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series, Balon, of Clewiston, Fla., has made the most of January and February, posting three top-10 finishes in three events.

Balon, who works as a bass fishing guide out of Mary Ann Martin’s Marina on Lake Okeechobee, started his 2006 hot streak with a sixth-place finish on Jan. 8 at Okeechobee, the first tournament of the Okeechobee division of the Southeast region.

On Feb. 5, Balon took second place in the Okeechobee division’s second event to take the points lead in the division. In between those two events, Balon turned in an impressive performance at the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series Championship on Jan. 19-21. Balon finished third in the series championship, which wrapped up the 2005 season.

Balon has collected more than $7,000 in winnings from those three events.

The ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series is still accepting registrations for the 2006 season. For more information, go to

How to win the Classic
What’s the secret to winning the Bassmaster Classic? Is it having lucky cookies on your boat, as reigning Classic champ Kevin VanDam did last year on the Three Rivers? Or could it be something as simple as the old fisherman’s maxim to “keep your bait wet.”

For this year’s Classic, VanDam offers this prediction.

“It’s probably going to be won around the grass,” VanDam said. “That or maybe someone finds a big school out in the open water. But the biggest key is going to be taking advantage of the big bites. There are some big ones in Toho, and you could see some people come from the middle of the pack after the first day and really jump up there. The thing you have to do is put those big bites in the boat when you get a chance.”

International flavor at the Junior Championship
Perhaps the best example of the sport of bass fishing expanding its boundaries will be on display at the 2006 Junior Bassmaster World Championship on Feb. 19 at the Harris Chain of Lakes in Leesburg, Fla. The first ever qualifiers from the South African BASS Federation, Brendon High and Martinus Van Aswegan, will participate in the championship event.

High, 14, will compete in the 11-14 division while Van Aswegan, 16, will compete in the 15-18 division. Both High, from Cape Town, and Van Aswegan, from Sasolburg, will face an entirely different set of circumstances from the 88 other qualifiers in the field.

“I think this is an awesome experience and it is such an honor to be able to represent my whole country,” High said.

The weigh-ins for the championship event start at 1 p.m. at Venetian Gardens in conjunction with Bassmaster Family Fest.

It has been a banner year for South Africa in BASS competitions. South African Anré De Villiers earned a coveted spot into the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic by winning the 2006 BASS Federation Championship on the Harris Chain of Lakes. High is looking to repeat his countryman’s championship performance on the same body of water.

“It will be a great experience to compete against all the other brilliant junior anglers in the United States,” High said. “I think I can win the tournament and I am certainly hoping to represent my country with a win.”

Bringing down the house
Music fans have something to look forward to during the weigh-ins of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic this year at the Orange County Convention Center.

BASS has lined up Miss Orlando 2005 Ashley Hux, the funk-rock band Spookie Daly Pride, the 82nd Airborne Choir, Mary Delgado from ABC’s The Bachelor and country rock artist Trent Tomlinson to provide entertainment over the three days.

Spookie Daly Pride is the house band on all three days. Tomlinson, who is releasing his new album, “Country Is My Rock” on March 7, will rock the crowd at the final day weigh-in on Sunday, Feb. 26.

Hux, the Airborne Choir and Delgado will each sing the National Anthem and the Airborne Choir will return for a special performance on Sunday.

Online poll: Which CITGO Bassmaster Classic record will fall at Lake Toho? Visit to cast your vote.

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