But Hite is in a precarious position, tied for 38th place in the season-long points race. The finish line is this week’s Sunshine Showdown presented by Allstate Boat Insurance on Lake Tohopekaliga out of Kissimmee, Fla.
If he’s feeling the pressure to pull up at least two spots to qualify for the Classic on Lake Hartwell in his home state, Hite’s not showing it. The two-time Angler of the Year sounded unfazed during the practice period of the Florida event.
“With me being right on the bubble to make the Classic, that’s a little added incentive to do well,” said Hite, the 1999 Bassmaster Classic champion. “But as far as pressure, this is far less pressure than when I was leading (the points race) going into the final event.”
The 42-year-old pro has scored seven BASS career victories, qualified for the Classic 12 times and has earned more than $1 million in career BASS earnings. He has built confidence in his fishing abilities through the years.
“I’m not planning on not performing well, and I haven’t even thought about missing the Classic because it’s not in my plan,” a confident Hite said.
To track the pros’ bids to make the Classic, fishing fans can attend the free event. Also, www.ESPNOutdoors.com will provide live, streaming video of the weigh-ins each day beginning at 3 p.m. ET. Also live on www.ESPNOutdoors.com, the 3 p.m. Sunday show Hooked Up previews the final day’s weigh-in.
THE HEAVYWEIGHT. While Skeet Reese leads Kevin VanDam in the prestigious Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, VanDam has a leg up on Reese in the competition for the new Berkley Heavyweight Award.
Introduced this season to the Bassmaster Elite Series, the Berkley Heavyweight Award is worth $15,000 and will be awarded, along with the Angler of the Year and other titles, at the conclusion of the season finale at Lake Tohopekaliga.
To balance the award, the Heavyweight standings only take into account weight from the first two days of Elite events – when the full field of Elite anglers compete.
Going into the event, VanDam’s Heavyweight tally is 362 pounds, 4 ounces, to Reese’s 347 pounds, 7 ounces. Third in the Heavyweight standings is Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., with 330 pounds, 9 ounces. Fred Roumbanis of Auburn, Calif., and Jared Lintner of Arroyo Grande, Calif., are tied for fourth with 329 pounds, 5 ounces.
MAKE MY CAREER. For pro angler Clark Reehm of Russellville, Ark., everything is riding on the outcome of the Bassmaster Central Open’s season-ending event Sept. 27-29 on Lake Amistad out of Del Rio, Texas.
“This is a make-my-career deal,” said Reehm, who has competed for several years in BASS events at the Open level. “This is probably the biggest tournament I’ve ever fished as far as having the most on the line.
“If I do well at Amistad and make the Bassmaster Classic, my career jump-starts. It’s every (angler’s) dream to win the Classic, but you’ve got to qualify first.”
He will qualify if he earns enough points at Amistad to solidify his top-three standing in the Bassmaster Central Open’s season-long points race. Going into Amistad, Reehm is 67 points behind Central Open’s points leader Brian Clark of Haltom, Texas, and sits in third place.
The three anglers with the most points after the Lake Amistad event will earn berths in the 2008 Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 22-24 on Lake Hartwell out of Greenville, S.C. The top five in the Central Open standings will be eligible to move up next year to the highest level of professional bass fishing, the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Advancing to the Elite Series is Reehm’s long-term career goal.
“This year I will look back and consider it a disappointing year unless I make the Elite Series,” said Reehm, who quit his job as a graphic designer last February so he could concentrate on a fishing career. “It’s a bonus to be in position to make the Classic.”
A PRO CO. Howard Stephens of Columbia, S.C., claims to be the winningest co-angler in BASS history.
With earnings of $141,628.92 in cash and prizes, Stephens is a pro at competing from the back of pros’ boats. He has finished in the money in 39 of the 57 BASS events he has entered as a co-angler since 1996.
“I’ve found this little niche as a co-angler and it’s been a lot of fun and lucrative,” said Stephens, whose “day job” is being a manufacturers’ representative for carbide-tooling and industrial-diamond companies.
His best haul to date is a Triton/Mercury boat package valued at $35,000. He has won four boats through the years; two of which he won in back-to-back events in 2004. One was a Triton rig he kept.
Stephens said he has been asked many times if he ever considers going pro.
“My answer is pretty much the same every time: No.” he said. “First of all, I’m 63 years old, and being a professional fisherman is a tough job. It’s hard work. I’ve got a job. If I were young and single, then I’d certainly consider it.”
Stephens is signed up to compete as a co-angler this week in the Sunshine Showdown on Lake Tohopekaliga. It will be his sixth Elite event this year and the 58th BASS event in his co-angler career.
UPS AND DOWNS. “I’m pretty good at math and if I calculated the time I wasted measuring 14 ½-inchers, I might see how I’d have had time to catch one more.” — 2006 Bassmaster Major winner Dave Wolak of Wake Forest, N.C., plagued by short fish and short limits at the Bassmaster Legends on Arkansas’ Lake Dardanelle in August.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208 or visit www.Bassmaster.com. Visit www.espnmediazone.com for ESPN's latest releases, schedules and other news, plus photos, video and audio clips and more.
BASS is the worldwide authority on bass fishing, sanctioning more than 20,000 events through the BASS Federation Nation annually. Guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans, BASS sets the standard for credibility, professionalism, sportsmanship and conservation, as it has for nearly 40 years.
BASS stages bass fishing tournaments for every skill level and culminates with the Bassmaster Classic. Through its clubs, youth programs, aquatic resource advocacy, magazine publishing and multimedia platforms, BASS offers the industry's widest array of services and support to its nearly 530,000 members. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.