The third event of the CITGO Bassmaster Southern Open trail presented by Busch Beer will award the winner with a $50,000 prize, but that is just the beginning. The top three pros in the Open Season points standings will win the most coveted ticket in professional fishing — a spot in the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Classic. And the last of the three Southern Opens will send the season's top 20 performers to the inaugural CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship in December.
Lake Eufaula is the perfect setting for such an important season-ending shootout.
BASS has visited the 45,000-acre reservoir located on the Georgia-Alabama border 13 times over the past 34 years. Situated 85 miles southwest of Montgomery, Lake Eufaula is one of the South's most famous bass fisheries. Local expert Bobby Padgett of Columbus, Ga., helped write some of the impoundment's impressive history with a 77-pound, 9-ounce catch during a Bassmaster Eastern Invitational event in 1996.
While most recent BASS events there have been held in the spring, the experts say the Southern Open competitors are in for some fine fall fishing.
"I think the fishing is going to be good," said BASS angler Gerald Swindle of Hayden, Ala. "I hear they're going to keep the water up, and that's going to push the fish back in the creeks more. And if we have the normal fall transition where there's a steady cooling trends without a drastic drop in temperature, I think we're going to see some pretty heavy weights caught during the tournament."
As always, the unpredictable Alabama weather will be a major factor.
"If we don't get a super big rain and muddy it up, it's going to be an awesome deal," Dalton Bobo of Northport, Ala. added. "The lake's coming back. It suffered through a little of that Largemouth Bass Virus, but the last couple of years they've been posting some good numbers down there again."
Unlike the most recent BASS tournaments on Lake Eufaula where the bass (and the pros) have tended to gather in a few spots, Swindle and Bobo expect the reservoir to fish larger this time around.
"I think the fishing is going to be more spread out," Swindle said. "Every time we're there in the spring, they seem to be all bunched up in certain areas. This time they will be spread out a lot more. The lake will fish a lot bigger, and you possibly will see some bigger catches."
And the most productive techniques will likely center around the still flooded shallow portions of the big lake.
"They tell me they're going to keep the water and not pull it down," Bobo said. "If that's the case, it will be a good spinnerbait and topwater deal. If it's cool enough, deep crankbaiting might not be the deal (like past tournaments). If they do leave the water up and it stays in the grass, it's going to be a spinnerbait, swimming jig, topwater tournament."
Swindle agrees with that assessment, saying, "You're going to be able to fish fast, fish pretty aggressive, and catch them. A lot of topwater, a lot of small crankbaits. The key is just looking for the baitfish. Once you find them on Eufaula, you can catch them. Typical fall fishing. Perfect fall patterns."
Swindle predicts that the winning weight will be in the mid 50-pound range. Bobo pegs it in the upper 40s.
Some of the sport's biggest names are locked into the tight race for both the Classic invitations that go to the top three boaters in the southern division points standings and the 20 tickets to the no-entry-fee Open Championship.
Former Classic champion Denny Brauer, two-time third-place Classic finisher David Walker and 2000 BASS Angler of the Year Tim Horton occupy the top three spots (and are separated by a single point). Behind them are Charles Pippin, Terry Segraves, Swindle, Felton Langley, Chris Daves, Robert (Duke) McCardle, Roger Crafton, Ronnie Ray, Aaron Martens, Sandy Melvin, Peter Thliveros, Chad Brauer, Matt Herren, Eric Nethery, Mike Wurm, Rickey Shumpert, Jack L Wade and JT Kenney.
Anglers launch daily at 5:45 a.m. Daily weigh-ins will begin at 2:15 p.m. at Lakepoint State Park Marina and are free to the public.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. In 2004, BASS will introduce 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, Chevrolet Trucks, Yamaha Outboards, Mercury Marine, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Kumho Tires, Progressive Insurance, Abu Garcia, Berkley, Diamond Cut Jeans, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, and BankOne.
Associate Sponsors include Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning and G3 Boats.
Local sponsors include Eufaula/Barbour County Chamber of Commerce and the State of Alabama Conservation Department.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.