The pros fortunate enough to earn an invitation to the Great Outdoor Games look forward to this annual tournament with an eagerness reserved for few competitions.
In the sport of professional fishing, The Great Outdoor Games bass competition is viewed as a highly elite and unique event. To qualify for the 10-man field is an honor; to compete in the Games bass-filled Folsom Lake in nearby California is expected to be an absolute blast.
Although the Games' bass contest offers a slim purse in comparison with the CITGO Bassmaster Tour events, the competition is about more than just money. It's about pride and prestige and enjoying the athletic pageantry that envelops the Games.
That's the reason that the sport's biggest names participate.
Returning are the medallists from the 2002 Games: Florida's Shaw Grigsby (gold), and Texans Gary Klein (three-time silver medalist) and Clark Wendlandt (three-time bronze winner).
But that is just the beginning. All-time BASS leading money winner Denny Brauer is back, along with 28-time Classic contender Rick Clunn. Two-time Great Outdoor Games gold medalist Peter Thliveros of Florida returns, along with 2002 BASS Angler of the Year Davy Hite and 2003 Tour winner Ron Shuffield.
"The No. 1 tournament in the world is the Bassmaster Classic. Other than that, nothing has the exposure or the prestige that the Great Outdoor Games does," said Grigsby, an eight-time BASS winner who will be competing in his 10th Classic this summer. "The Great Outdoor Games are aired all year long on ESPN and ESPN2. It even gets airtime on the ABC network. It's a monster. It's awesome."
"I love the Games," Klein agreed. "It's a lot of fun. That's been my problem the last couple of years. I just kind of ranked it as fun. I enjoy competition, and it's an opportunity that I take to represent my companies. We get a lot of good airtime in it.
"Probably the only downside to the Games is, being a competitor, I don't have an opportunity to watch the other events. I'd love to go watch all of the shooting activities and the other stuff that goes on. I really enjoy it."
Unlike previous years, the 2003 Great Outdoor Games bass competition will be a team event. And that has created some intriguing combinations for fishing fans.
Longtime friends Grigsby and Klein will team up, while angling legends Brauer and Clunn will work together. Hite and Wendlandt will join forces, along with Shuffield and Thliveros.
"I want to win gold badly," said Klein, who recently earned his 21st Classic invitation. "Shaw and I are teaming up. So we have gold and silver going after the gold again this year. We have always fished well together. We're going to go out there and just have a great time.
"It totally changes strategy. Both Shaw and I are both used to fishing for ourselves. However, over the years we've drawn each other so many times in tournaments. Plus, we've fished together some just fun fishing. We both know how to work the water well and we're going to have a good time." The team concept has Grigsby fired up.
"It's going to be different because we're so used to fishing as individuals in all of our events, but now we can help each other," he explained. "We can play off of each other's strengths and weaknesses. So I think it's really exciting. One guy's strength might be the other's weakness.
"Gary loves light line and drop-shot type stuff and I'm not strong at that. Some of the other things I might be stronger at. We'll see if we can't work some strategies. There are some 15- and 16-pound fish in that lake. Bottom line is one guy could actually spend time trying to catch a big one, while the other guy loads up a limit. I think it's going to be a neat deal."
Klein is intimately familiar with Folsom Lake. As a youngster in California, he grew up fishing the 18,000-acre impoundment of the American River located in the base of the Sierra Nevada foothills.
"With Lake Folsom, they couldn't have picked a better lake," Klein said. "It's a fabulous lake, a deep, clear lake that has a lot of big spots in it and a lot of smallmouths. A lot of big largemouths. It's just going to be a great time out there.
"I don't have an advantage. These guys are all good and it doesn't take them very long to break down a little lake like that. It's not that big of a lake. They'll figure it out pretty quick. It wouldn't surprise me to see an 18- or 20-pound bag. It's got those kinds of fish in it.
"Anytime you get to fish Lake Folsom it's a great time to go. It's going to be summertime. We're only going to be fishing for six hours, and we'll finish fishing at noon. It's a real heavily public use lake. They have a tremendous amount of water skiers on that lake, so come noon we'll basically be looking forward to getting off of the lake."
The 33rd CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer will take place August 1-3 in New Orleans, La.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning over 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, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Kumho Tires, Abu Garcia, Berkley, Diamond Cut Jeans, Bass Pro Shops, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, Armstrong Industrial Hand Tools, and BankOne.
Associate Sponsors include Bass Cat Boats and G3 Boats