A few years ago, the thought of starting a new BASS season with two Florida tournaments would have been a little daunting to Denny Brauer, professional fishing’s version of the Intimidator.

That’s no longer the case.

Although the importance of getting off to a good start is as strong as ever, the veteran Missouri pro has gotten over his Florida phobia. In fact, he’s looking forward to the kickoff of the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Tour next week on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee. A week later, the Bassmaster train pulls into Leesburg and the Harris Chain of Lakes.

“Success always breeds more success, so it’s great if you can get off to a good start,” said Brauer, the all-time leading BASS money-winner, who could top the $2 million mark this season. “I don’t care who you are, it gets you a little more pumped up.

“I really enjoyed the years when we didn’t go to Florida. I felt like it was an advantage because Florida had been such a weakness for me. I look at how I’ve fished in Florida the last few years, though, and I’m doing better there because of necessity – I’ve got to fish it better. I feel I can go down there and win now.

“I don’t want to get off to a bad start in the two Florida tournaments, because if you do it takes away some possibilities that could happen during the year as far as qualifying for the Classic and winning Angler of the Year. Even if I don’t do well, I won’t let it devastate me because I know I might win a hundred grand in the next tournament. It’s not going to affect my style of fishing. It’s not going to affect my confidence in the next event, but it may affect how the whole year comes together.”

Brauer has had a long but undistinguished career in Florida BASS events. It’s one of few states that regularly show up on the schedule where he hasn’t won. His finishes in Florida events since 2000 include a sixth place, a ninth, 74th, 82nd and 146th.

“Of all the places over the years, that’s probably been the hardest one for me to be successful,” the former CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion said. “I’ve never won a tournament in Florida. The best I’ve ever done is a fourth-place finish on the Harris Chain in a MegaBucks event.

“I’ve led two BASS tournaments on Okeechobee, but couldn’t finish them off. In one of them, by the time it was over I barely got a paycheck. I just seem to struggle. You fish in the middle of groups of people down there, and I like to get off by myself and run patterns. That’s hard to do in Florida; it’s more or less area fishing there. The fish are in big groups on grass flats and things like that.

“That may be why the Harris Chain is the area in Florida that I normally do the best in, because it fishes differently from a lot of the lakes there. You’ve got different cover options there than you have in a lot of those places. You’ve got the canals and the river system coming in. There are things I can do there that I can’t on some of the other Florida lakes. It’s not a deal where you get on a grass flat like you do on Toho or Okeechobee, and you’ve got 50 boats fishing together. The Harris Chain doesn’t fish that way.”

BOYS WITH TOYS. Bassmaster pros Skeet Reese and Stephen Browning recently attended the massive Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, doing some research for the upcoming Bass Tech series on ESPN2.

“It was the most insane trade show I’ve ever seen,” Reese said. “It was off the hook. It made anything we’ve ever done in the fishing industry look small. It was a real eye-opening experience for us.

“We did a 90-minute stage presentation each day, talking about the sport and doing some casting competitions. We talked about how we were there for Bass Tech and going through the show trying to find the newest, latest and greatest in gizmos, gadgets, electronics and toys that we could incorporate into fishing, boats and vehicles. We found everything from backup cameras, steering wheels, radar detectors and satellites to TV monitors and DVD players.”

The pros spent three days at the show working in the ESPN display in the main pavilion, which was promoting their various properties. Reese said he was told that Disney CEO Michael Eisner was in the audience for one of their presentations.

“I don’t know when he was there, but I know he was walking around and watching the shows,” Reese said. “When I heard he was going to be there that day, I thought, ‘Oh, great. No pressure.’ But once I was on stage, I forgot all about him being there. We just did our deal and tried to entertain the crowd a little bit.”

DID YOU KNOW? Former Classic champion Michael Iaconelli’s hobby is collecting antiques.

PRO BIRTHDAYS. Missouri’s Mark Tucker will blow out 44 candles on Jan. 31st. A pair of former Classic champions (Ken Cook, 58, and Denny Brauer, 56) will celebrate their birthdays on Feb. 2 and 3, respectively.

IF I HADN’T BECOME A BASS PRO… South Carolina pro Ray Sedgwick would likely be a duck and deer hunting guide.

THEY SAID IT. “The young guys that come into the sport these days are geared up to catch limits. They’re fishing multiple techniques and they’re catching limits every day. That’s the way to get to the Classic on a consistent basis. Some of us older guys are more like home run hitters who might go two tournaments without catching them and then blast them in the third tournament. You don’t make the Classic very often like that, though. You pretty much have to catch a decent limit every day to make the Classic.” Former Classic champion Robert Hamilton, Jr.

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail, which includes the Bassmaster Elite 50 series, 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.

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