CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The heroes and stars of bass fishing's past and present gathered for the "Night Of Champions" Wednesday to honor each other, the heritage of their sport and future generations of anglers.

Attended by a who's who list of anglers and sponsors, the two-hour dinner recognized the 2004 Bassmaster elite. The 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year award was presented to Gerald Swindle, and Greg Hackney was presented the 2004 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year award.

The 2004 Bassmaster Horizon Award (for comeback angler of the year) was given to Davy Hite, and Kevin Van Dam was recognized as the Elite 50 points champion. It also was a preview of today's announcement of "The Greatest Angler Debate," a joint initiative by ESPN and BASS to recognize the top angler in the history of BASS. The winner will be announced at the 35th Bassmaster Classic next year in Pittsburgh.

"What you do every day impacts the youth of this sport," Michael Iaconelli said after recounting his own personal childhood memories of reading about some of the very anglers to whom he spoke. "And that is what this, all of this, is all about."

Iaconelli, who was among 25 of the 35 "Greatest Angler" nominees in attendance, went on to praise those anglers who paved the way for he and other recent champions.

That sentiment was echoed by Swindle, who accepted his Angler of the Year award to a standing ovation.

Swindle spoke of bass fishing's bright future under the guidance of BASS and ESPN Outdoors, making specific reference to Monday's Junior Bassmaster World Championship and returning to the theme of the sport's impact on youth.

"To have a strong house, you have to have a strong foundation," Swindle said. "And that's what we're doing - building a strong foundation - and we're going to build a strong empire for bass fishing."

Swindle added that the sport was sending this strong message to young people as it grows: "If you work hard, fishing can take you a long way."

Others recognized were John Murray, the 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Open Champion, and the 2004 Federation Classic qualifiers: Thad Takes (North Federation Classic champion), George Accord (East), Russ Lane (South), William Pippin (Central) and Jeff Boyer (West).

BASS AT THE MAGIC KINGDOM You may have seen reigning CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Mike Iaconelli hoisting a sizable bass from the Disney Lakes.

What you might not know is that you, too, can catch trophy bass there with Walt Disney Fishing Excursions in Orlando, Fla. Anyone interested in a day of family fun on the water can gather more information by calling 407-WDW-BASS (407-939-2277).

CATCH BASS ON THE NET You can hear broadcasts of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic online. Fans can listen online at for live audio coverage of weigh-ins from 4:15 to 5:45 p.m. ET on Friday and Saturday and from 3:45 to 5:45 ET on Sunday. The webcast will be hosted by Chicago radio personality Chauncey Niziol.

Also, fans can keep up with the weigh-ins online by using the Real-Time Leaderboard. Just log on to You will know at the click of a mouse who is leading and what is their daily and total weight.