"It's going to be a fun event," said the veteran Texas pro, who qualified through the Central Open division. "I've been excited about for a while.
"I had a pretty rotten second day at (the Central opener in) Mississippi and was in 83rd. But then I started thinking, 'Hey, there's a championship to qualify for here and you'd better step it up a notch.' That's why I worked really hard at the next two events. I took them a lot more seriously and spent my time on the water. And I was fortunate enough to qualify.
"I'm excited about it. I really feel like this championship is the first attempt to give the Open circuit something to build with. Yeah, I'm (already) qualified for the Tour events, but if I go to this event and still perform well and get in the top five, hey, I get my entry fees for next year. That's a big bonus. So that is exciting. Not only that, but in this championship the biggest stringer caught during the week will be the first angler to qualify for the Busch Shootout. That right there gives a guy something to fish for every day."
For the 80 championship competitors, there is a great deal to fish for in this no- entry-fee tournament.
The hottest ticket up for grabs is to the coveted 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer for the winner (if he has not already qualified as one of the top three performers in his division). In addition, the top five earn $10,000 and get their entry fees paid for the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Tour. Sixth place earns $10,000, and even last place receives $800.
Famed Toledo Bend is the perfect place to stage such a battle where so much is at stake. The reservoir, a sprawling body of timber-filled water that forms the border between Texas and Louisiana, has been a fishing hotbed since it opened in 1967. With more than 185,000 acres, Toledo Bend is said to be the fifth largest manmade reservoir in the United States. Twelve miles at its widest point, the Bend has a whopping 1,200 miles of fishable shoreline.
Klein expects the reservoir to be cooperative during the championship.
"The fishing could be real good as long as we don't have a real hard northern," he said. "Wind is going to be the biggest factor. It will obviously affect the anglers more than the fishery.
"The fishing ought to be all channel-related. They will be suspended a lot. One variable in that could be the grass, and the lower end of Toledo Bend has plenty of grass in it. We just had a major cold front come through Texas here, and that could really get those fish going on Rat-L-Traps."
One pre-championship favorite is veteran Texas pro Harold Allen, who ended a career victory drought by winning the recent Central Open season finale on the Ouachita River. It was his first visit to the winner's circle since he started fishing BASS events in 1974.
"I'll tell you whose going to be one of the biggest threats there — Harold Allen," Klein said. "He knows Toledo Bend and he was the last guy in on the Central Division, so he's got to be pretty excited about that."
"That's what he said, huh?" Allen replied when informed about Klein's prediction. "I have waited a long time for a big tournament on Toledo in December.
"I love the lake in the wintertime. It's a time when you're not going to get beat by somebody just going down a bush line pitching to bushes. It's going to be more of a structure man's game. It's going to be more of a thinking man's game. You're going to have enough fish for four days, yet you have to come on strong at the start to establish yourself.
"I'm glad that we will be accumulating the weight for the four days because Toledo is a lake where anybody can get lucky and bust a big string one day."
Allen, who guided on the reservoir from 1970-80 (including some 300-day years), expects the fishing to be excellent during the championship.
"It wouldn't surprise me to see close to a 4-pound average (per fish)," he said. "It's been a little off this fall, but we had been needing cold weather and we have some nights now in the low 30s. The long-range forecast calls for some more nights in the 30s before the tournament starts. So it should be a good one."
Daily weigh-ins take place at Cypress Bend Park at 3 p.m. Anglers launch beginning at 6:45 a.m.
A CastingKids event will take place Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the weigh-in site. Children between the ages of 7-14 can compete for a chance to win a scholarship.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. In 2004, BASS will introduce the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 Series, a four-event, no-entry-fee circuit featuring a $1.6 million prize purse for the world's best anglers. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer 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 Tournament Trail 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 Sabine River Authority, State of Louisiana.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit http://www.bassmaster.com.