At 21, R.J. Bennett is the youngest pro on the CITGO Bassmaster Tour presented by Busch Beer, but he can take the heat of competing with the world's top anglers; after all, some of Bennett's toughest competition comes from within his Grass Valley, Calif., home.

R.J.'s brother Michael, 19, came close to qualifying for the 2004 Tour via the CITGO Bassmaster Western Open circuit presented by Busch Beer. His hopes of joining his older brother on the Tour were squelched by a rope that wrapped around his prop and caused him to miss a lock during the final qualifying round of the Open on the Columbia River.

"Who's the best? Tough question," R.J. said. "We can both compete. We each have our highs and lows on our tournaments. I wouldn't say one is better or not."

Their father, Dick Bennett, weighs in: "I'm very proud of them. They're good fishermen. They're going to go after this sport. They both have a drive and passion for this sport that is so strong."

R.J. Bennett was born to be a fisherman. He caught his first fish (a bluegill) at the age of 18 months - and has the photo to prove it. That was followed by a childhood of fishing for bass in various small Southern California lakes and an abundance of saltwater excursions.

"I been fishing pro-ams since I was 16 and old enough to drive, and I've probably wanted to be a professional bass fisherman since I was about 14," he said.

Bennett displayed polished skills upon entering the Western Opens en route to finishing fourth in the lone event he fished in 2001. He finished 13th in the 2003 Western standings and qualified for both the inaugural CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship presented by Busch Beer and the 2004 Tour.

His quick success really didn't come as a surprise, Bennett said. "I've been fishing those bodies of water for quite a while now, and I was very competitive on them. But I was happy with where I finished, for sure."

But Bennett admits there is a bit of an intimidation factor involved in stepping up to the Tour level.

"Although I've been fishing with a lot of these guys for a couple of years now, there is (an intimidation factor)," he said. "To be there fishing around Kevin VanDam and Jay Yelas and all of these guys that you've read about and seen on the TV shows.

"The biggest surprise on the Tour for me is something (BASS master of ceremonies) Fish (Fishburne) said on stage: 'When you think you did good, you just did OK. And when you think you did really good, you just did good.' These guys are the best of the best and if there's fish out there, they will be caught."

In the first half of the Tour season, Bennett has finished 90th at the Harris Chain (with 16 pounds, 1 ounce), 55th at Smith Lake (6-15) and 121st at last week's Lake Guntersville event (12-1).

"I would say I'm happy with how I've done," he said. "I did OK in the first two. I went to Guntersville and struggled. I had a terrible pre-fish and everybody was catching them, which makes it even harder on you. You see everybody catching them and you know they're fishing the areas that you're fishing, but you just can't get them.

"But I've been happy with it. My goal this year was to be able to finish in the top 100 of every tournament and hopefully be in the top 50 in points by the end of the season. This last one didn't help that, but the first two I was very pleased with."

WEATHER SAVVY. "The Road Crew" from The Weather Channel in Atlanta was in Guntersville last week filming a segment on how weather affects outdoor activities.

"We choose a different state each week," field producer Stephanie Oswald told the Huntsville Times. "We've filmed segments on bald eagles, Cathedral Caverns and the Bassmaster anglers."

2005 CLASSIC UPDATE. ESPN Outdoors today announced dates for the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer are set for July 29-31, 2005. The location for the world championship is expected to be announced at this summer's Classic in Charlotte, N.C., July 30-Aug 1. BASS has confirmed that Hartford, Conn., and Pittsburgh, Pa., are among the finalists.

DID YOU KNOW? George Cochran's winning weight of 99-10 at Lake Guntersville is the second-highest winning total in Tour history behind Dean Rojas' record-setting 108-12 in 2001 on Florida's Lake Tohopekaliga.

PRO BIRTHDAYS. Todd Auten of South Carolina turns 38 on March 2. Florida's Chuck Economou will celebrate his 48th birthday on March 27, while Curt Lytle (of Virginia and Texan Darren Wolf share the same birthday (March 28).

IF I HADN'T BECOME A BASS PRO... Former Classic qualifier Jeff Kriet would likely still be a loan officer in Ardmore, Okla.

THEY SAID IT. "I made myself a promise when I started that if this started getting in my pocket and started costing me that I'd quit. I've had some slow years, but then I've boomed right back and do real well for the next couple of years. I've been discouraged a time or two, but I've never really wanted to quit. I love to compete. I love the guys. And as long as I can make a living doing it, I will probably stay with it." Veteran Texas pro Harold Allen.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375.