CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The crowd of anglers at breakfast had been cut in half Sunday as world championship contenders clattered silverware and filled up before a long day on the water at the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer.

The 25 anglers remaining after Saturday’s round cut the field from 53 were more than aware of the stakes heading into the final round.

“Today is really for all the marbles,” said pro Dustin Wilks of nearby Rocky Mount, N.C. competing in his fourth Classic. “I’m sitting in 13th spot right now, but it’s still anyone’s game.”

Wilks was one of the last few anglers to qualify for the 2004 Classic, thanks to the Bassmaster Elite 50 series. He believes the final day will be good for everyone.

“I think anyone could still win it,” he said. “I’m 7 pounds back, but it wouldn’t take anything to make that up. It would be just as easy today to get 17 pounds as it would to zero on this lake.”

That kind of confidence may just be what he needs.

The grueling competition is starting to take its toll on anglers … and on reporters, as well. Mike Zlotnicki of the Raleigh News and Observer rode with Wilks on Day 2 of competition and had some aches and pains from the outing.

“I don’t know if it was from the boat ride or the way I slept, but my neck is really sore today,” Zlotnicki said.

Sleep itself is precious during Classic week. The schedule for the pros is physically and mentally grueling.

The days start early with a 3:30 wake-up call. Then it’s a long day in the sun, before the weigh-in and on-stage antics with tournament emcee Fish Fishburne. At that point, after all the exhilaration and exhaustion of the day’s competition, they are hustled back to the media room to speak to deadline reporters and ESPN television crews about their adventures.

“I don’t know about y’all, but when that alarm clock went off this morning, I was like, ‘Say it isn’t so.’” Wilks added. “I was really tired. It was pretty tough to get out of bed.”

There’s light at the end of the tunnel: the remaining 25 will be able to sleep in Monday and all the Classic competitors will be looking forward to Pittsburgh and qualifying for the Classic to be staged in the Steel City in 2005.

Weigh-ins are daily at the Charlotte Coliseum at 2:30. A complete telecast schedule is online at

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer, which includes the all-new 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.

Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.

Local Sponsors include the Charlotte Regional Sports Commission, Visit Charlotte, the Auditorium-Coliseum-Convention Center Authority, the Rock Hill Sports and Tourism Council and Time Warner Cable.

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