Much more difficult is not getting so caught up in the hoopla of professional fishing's biggest event that it impacts an angler’s on-the-water efforts. These Classic freshmen will find that boat spectators and the demands on their time become as much a strategic consideration as their choice in lure and fishing spots, according to veterans.
“I don't think anything can prepare you for your first Classic,” four-time champion Rick Clunn said. “When you get there and see what a big deal the Classic is, it's easy to get all wide-eyed and forget the reason you're there, which is to catch fish.”
Six anglers with varying career experience comprise this year's Classic rookie class: Toyota Bassmaster Rookie of the Year Dave Wolak of Pennsylvania, Florida's Preston Clark, John Crews of Virginia, California's Greg Gutierrez, Cliff Pace of Mississippi and Texan Bradley Stringer.
According to these rookies, being a first-timer does not carry an inherent disadvantage that cannot be overcome.
In fact, Wolak, 28, is reveling in his rookie status.
“That's the whole tournament in itself,” he said. “That's something special.
“… There is a disadvantage experience-wise because the Classic is a whole new realm. It's like throwing yourself into the Super Bowl without ever having been there. It's definitely a shocker for individuals who aren't accustomed to being in the finals with all the press and things related to it.”
John Crews, 27, spent five years trying to qualify for the Classic, including three seasons on the CITGO Bassmaster Tour and two on the Bassmaster Open series. He believes those experiences will counter any rookie challenges in the upcoming Classic.
“I think it can be (a disadvantage), especially if it's your first year on Tour,” Crews said. “I see a contrast between me and the guys that made it through the Opens. I talked to (Michael) Iaconelli on the water almost every day (during practice in Pittsburgh) and his mindset versus their mindset is definitely different. Not taking anything away from them, but I found that my outlook is a lot more like Iaconelli's than their outlook.”
Crews said staying mentally strong through the grueling week will increase chances of success.
“I'm guessing it will be a little bit of a challenge (dealing with off-the-water distractions), but I think that also has to do with your personality. Some people's personalities lend themselves to being a little more susceptible to getting caught up in that kind of stuff. I feel I'm mentally stronger than that because I've really worked on that part of my game. And I feel like I can compete mentally with any of these guys.”
Crews termed his five-day practice period as “average for everybody I've talked to. I was on the two-keeper-a-day program. It was tough. You just had to keep at it and keeping beating them. You had to hit everything that looked good and then some.
“My philosophy on that type of water is it's not going to be won in one little area based on what I saw. I think it will be a junk fisherman's tournament where you're hitting 50 spots in a day and you might stumble upon five keepers a day. That will be the guy that excels.”
Andre Moore, 32-year-old owner of the lure company Reaction Innovations, could hardly be considered a rookie in any fishing situation other than the Classic. He finished in the top 10 at both this year’s CITGO Bassmaster Tour stop at Table Rock Lake in Missouri and the 1999 California Invitational. He doesn’t believe this year’s Classic newcomers will be at a significant disadvantage.
“Not if they've fished a lot of tournaments,” Moore, of Arizona, said. “Most of the rookies have been fishing a long time anyway. I don't think there will be butterflies and stuff like that for most of the guys. I don't think it's a big disadvantage.”
Of his performance in the practice period, Moore said: “I guess it was about as terrible as everybody else's. I don't know if everybody's sandbagging, but I haven't heard of anybody doing very good. A couple of days I was there I had a limit, but it weighed about 5 pounds. I don't know if I can do that every day with lock times and everything else.”
OFF-DUTY PRO. What does a Bassmaster pro do when his isn’t preparing for the upcoming Classic? For Peter Thliveros, he goes fishing.
The Florida pro and his 12-year-old son Nicholas recently fished a local tournament on their home waters, the St. Johns River. They didn't win, but did take big-bass honors with a 5.36-pound largemouth.
“My son and I made an agreement to fish some tournaments together this year when the Bassmaster Tour season was over,” said Thliveros, who won a Tour event on the Harris chain of lakes in Florida this season. “This is giving Nick time on the water to learn some stuff and for me to find out how much the river has changed. It's been a while since I have run the river, and I have seen some changes today.”
Thliveros has qualified for 10 Classics, but will not be competing in Pittsburgh.
WEIRDEST CATCH. When four-time Classic champion Rick Clunn was asked to name the weirdest thing he's ever caught, he thought a while before coming up with an answer.
“That would have to be in my very first Classic on Lake Wheeler,” Clunn recalled. “I threw a crankbait by a dock and hooked this fish. And he ran one way and then he sort of stopped and ran and pulled the other way. Back and forth.
“I hollered for the net and the press guy got my net — but it turned out to be a damn lawn chair. I hooked it right in the middle and it was like pulling a flat deal toward me. It would actually just shake and shutter and glide from one side to the other. It really put up a tremendous fight. It was a battle.
“It was embarrassing because I really thought I had a fish. I hadn't hooked a fish all day. My very first Classic and I land a lawn chair.”
Clunn's humiliating exploits were later chronicled in Field & Stream magazine.
DID YOU KNOW? Ever wonder who holds the record for the most futility in the Classic with 10 or more appearances? That would be Arkansas' Rob Kilby, who averaged 26.8 place for 11 Classics. Stacey King and Guy Eaker (both with 10 Classics) are next with 24.2 and 23.4, respectively.
PRO BIRTHDAYS. Texan Randy Dearman turns 58 on July 16. Classic contender Kevin Wirth will be 45 on July 20, while Arizona’s Mark Kile turns 39 a day later. On July 24, venerable Rick Clunn will blow out 59 candles. On the opposite end of the age spectrum, Texas pro Todd Faircloth celebrates his 30th birthday on July 25.
IF I HADN’T BECOME A BASS PRO… Michigan’s Gerry Gostenik could have fallen back on a degree in environmental biology/chemistry and returned to work as a biologist. The Tour pro worked in that field for the University of Michigan from 1995-97.
THEY SAID IT. “I think it's the same with men and women. In other words, you have to have some money in your pocket to be able to chase this dream you want and you have to give 100 percent of yourself whether you’re a man or a woman. But with the sport of fishing, luckily, you don’t have to be 10 feet tall and bulletproof. You can be a man. You can be a woman. You can be anything.” 2004 Top female pro Penny Berryman on the state of the sport for both sexes.
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.
The 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Classic will receive unprecedented coverage on ESPN and ESPN2 this year. A total of 15 1/2 hours of programming will be devoted to Classic tournament coverage from July 29-31.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208 or visit www.bassmaster.com.