The tournament, limited to a 13-angler field of bass fishing’s heavyweights, recalls the early days of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer, when anglers and the press were flown sight unseen to far-flung locations, including Lake Mead, Nev., and Currituck Sound, N.C. The practice ended in 1977, thanks to a booming fan base that clamored for the chance to attend bass fishing’s world championship.
Few know better about the unique circumstances that surround a tournament at a “mystery lake” than BASS founder Ray Scott, who dreamed up the whole idea on a road trip to Atlanta in August of 1970.
“Joy and paranoia are first cousins,” Scott said. “The joy and paranoia that I’m talking about are the joy of making it and knowing he’ll be in the competition. The paranoia is that he doesn’t know what the water is, he doesn’t know what to take.
“(At the first Classic), there was no way to anticipate what gear to take, what clothing to take, whether it was northern Minnesota or Castro’s Cuba. All these variables demand a different type of stuff, fishing gear.
“These are the frustrations and the anxieties that these guys are feeling, but the consoling factor is for them to realize that they are equally handicapped with everyone else. It got to almost being amusing.”
Fishing legend Bobby Murray, who won the first-ever “mystery lake” tournament, the 1971 Classic on Lake Mead knows a thing or two about how to prepare for this type of tournament.
“I wish I was there,” said Murray. “This is a really neat format and I think it’s going to be really exciting. BASS has just outgrown this sort of thing for the Classic. I mean, people plan their vacations around the Classic, but a deal like the Busch Shoutout, you can still do that.”
That’s thanks in part to a small field. The 13 anglers at the Shootout include the pros with the heaviest single-day weights at the 10 stops of the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer (Tour and Elite 50), the heaviest single-day weight at the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship, the CITGO BASS Federation Championship and the CITGO Bassmaster Classic have a shot at the $100,000 winner’s purse. The tournament will be televised on ESPN2 Sept. 25.
Murray, who now works for PRADCO Outdoor Brands and was recently selected as one of the past 35 years’ top anglers by ESPN’s Greatest Angler Debate, thinks the key to mystery tournaments is working fast.
“I think the guy who puts a pattern together the quickest will win it,” he said. “Usually you have two or three patterns working on any given body of water, but with it only being a one-day tournament, you’re really working against time.
“I just think it’s a really neat format and a really neat deal to bring the mystery lake concept back.”
Competitors will be allowed to take their tackle, but the boats will all be provided and they won’t know anything about the fishery until the plane lands.
“I haven’t heard anything about where we’re going” said Arizona pro John Murray.
Murray was the first to qualify for the inaugural event by hauling in the heaviest single-day bag of the tournament at the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship in 2003.
“That’s the way we want it. Everyone just gets the baits and lures and rods that you’re comfortable with and goes fishing,” he said. “You pack the rattletraps, Carolina rigs and drop shots and fish your strengths. The only thing that could really change things is if we go somewhere with a bunch of giants in it like an El Salto. I’m gearing up to catch keepers, you know, the 2- to 4-pound fish that we are used to catching, but if we go to an El Salto or a private lake, I’m not really going to be well prepared.”
Missouri’s Denny Brauer, who sits atop the list of BASS all-time money winners, is just as excited. Brauer is no stranger to little-known lakes. Each week, his popular show on ESPN2, “Schooled by Denny Brauer,” teaches an amateur angler the skills and techniques the pros use, then sends his guest out onto an unfamiliar lake and scores their performances.
“It just adds a new element to things,” Brauer said. “Any time 13 guys fish a one-day tournament for $100,000, it’s not a small thing. I’ve had the Busch people intentionally not calling me, so I can’t bribe them or anything.
“In a way, it’s a reality tournament, like ‘Schooled,’ because we don’t know what we’re doing and we’re going to have to get down to the basics. I just hope I’m not the one getting schooled out there.”
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 Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Toyota, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.