METARIE, La. - BASS Federation angler Tom Schachten looked at the endless line of autograph seekers at the 2003 Kids Classic presented by Chevy Trucks and smiled.

"I hope I've got enough cards," he said, pulling out a five-inch stack of trading cards with his smiling image on the front and his personal vitals and tourney statistics on the back. Schachten is the first angler from Idaho ever to qualify for the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer, and he was ready to meet the crowds of fans and children that flocked to Lafreniere Park on Thursday.

Some of those fans had come a long way for the free fishing derby. Bob Parker flew up from Key Largo, Fla., to watch his grandson, Brandon McMullen of La Place, La., land a fish or two.

"Our daughter called and told us that BASS was coming to town," he said. "They registered Brandon in this and we flew up. He's a good fisherman. His dad, Bob, always says to watch the Bassmaster Classic, because Bob plans to be on it. I think Brandon will be up there one day."

The children, meanwhile, were too busy fishing to waste much time on conversation.

"It's cool," said Trey Gaudet, 9, of Kenner, La., who clearly was impatient to get back to his Zebco rod and reel and the bream on the end of it.

The Kids Classic is a 20-year BASS tradition; on Thursday, the event put rods and reels in the hands of 1,150 children. BASS Youth manager Stacy Twiggs spent most of the past 12 months working toward the Kids Classic and the Bassmaster CastingKids finals, which are slated for Saturday.

"We work all year, and seeing it set up and executed is fun," Twiggs said. "To see it finally come together is awesome. The kids have been excellent, and their excitement makes all the work feel better than worthwhile."

In addition to a fishing derby and autograph session with the 61 Bassmaster Classic contenders, the festival also featured free gifts for the children and entertainment that included jugglers, a disc jockey and a squad of Yamaha cheerleaders that performed chants throughout the morning.

Meanwhile, back at the autograph stand, the line wasn't getting any shorter.

"I'll sure know how to sign my name by the end of it," Schachten said, picking up his pen and turning to the next fan.

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail 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, Chevrolet Trucks, Yamaha Outboards, Mercury Marine, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Kumho Tires, Progressive Insurance, Abu Garcia, Berkley, Diamond Cut Jeans, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, and BankOne.

Associate Sponsors include Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning and G3 Boats.

Local sponsors include the State of Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, and Jefferson Parish.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (504) 304-2563.