For those who don't consider professional fishing a sport or its participants athletes, consider the plight of a pair of veteran CITGO Bassmaster Tour pros — Larry Nixon and Bernie Schultz.

Both are representative of the pros that have competed in the bass wars for more than a decade. And both are suffering from the inherent by-products of a physically challenging sport.

And both men are rehabbing and trying to heal up in time for 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Tour presented by Busch Beer that kicks off in late January.

Nixon, a 53-year-old legendary Arkansas angler and 14-time BASS winner, underwent surgery on his right hand and wrist in October. Surgeons fused two small bones that connect the hand to the wrist. That area had created enormous pain for him when he moved his thumb and had become immune to cortisone injections.

His casting hand/wrist had been in a large cast and immobile for eight weeks until recently. That cast didn't keep him out of the woods near his home in Bee Branch where he went deer hunting almost daily.

"I think it's coming along alright," the former CITGO Bassmaster Classic winner said. "I'm just trying to rebuild the muscles in it. It gets pretty danged sore when you go to stretching a rubber band and squeezing a ball, and you haven't done anything in eight weeks.

"My first cast went backwards. I tried to cast a couple of days ago just to see if I could hold my spool down and I couldn't. It went backwards. But I think it's going to be all right. I'll get the strength rebuilt in it."

Schultz, the 49-year-old six-time Classic qualifier from Florida, had to pull out of the Southern Opens this fall to tend to a back-and-neck injury that could no longer be ignored.

The accumulation of pounding boat rides over the last 20 years resulted in a level- three herniated disc in his neck. The pain from that injury gradually intensified during the last Tour season and never got better during the off-season.

"It was so bad that it really scared me," Schultz said. "The pain was so bad I couldn't sleep at night."

Sophisticated tests revealed that he had a severely herniated disc in his neck. For the past three months, Shultz has been enduring an intensive physical therapy session several times a week.

"I'm getting stronger," he said. "I feel as good as ever. It's been a lot of work. But it's paying off and I feel like I'll be in as good a shape as I've ever been when return to the Tour. I'm looking forward to it."

A SPECIAL CAMP. Kudos to the Oklahoma BASS Federation members for their efforts to help young burn victims in the recent fifth annual Oklahoma Burn Victims Fishing Day — part of Oklahoma's Burn Camp.

Oklahoma's Burn Camp is free to all children that are victims of severe burns. It's a place where all burned children can interact with others that have been through the same type of trauma. The camp attracts 30 to 60 kids each year.

Each year, the kids overall favorite activity during the camp is fishing day. The Tulsa Fire Department, area paramedics, and Federation members put on fishing day at Lake Hudson. Each burn camp participant is provided with rod and reel, tacklebox with tackle, and live bait by the corporate vendors. Mike Thompson of the Tulsa Firefighters and Anglers coordinates each year's Fishing Day.

A good time and plenty of fellowship was enjoyed by the kids and adults alike.

DID YOU KNOW? Roland Martin set a BASS record in 1980-81 when he won an astonishing three tournaments in a row.

PRO BIRTHDAYS. Alabama's Gerald Swindle becomes 34 on Dec. 17th, while Chris Baumgardner of North Carolina turns 43 the next day. Kentucky pro Dan Morehead will be 36 on Dec. 21st, while Kim Stricker of Michigan will celebrate his 52nd birthday on Dec. 27th. Former Classic champion David Fritts (47) and Arkansas' Mike McClelland share (36) Dec. 29th.

IF I HADN'T BECOME A BASS PRO… "I've never even thought about doing anything else," four-time Classic qualifier Randy Howell said. "I would likely be a fishing guide and a salesman."

THEY SAID IT. "I'm just addicted to this stuff, man. It's awesome. I can't sit around the house for more than a week. I've got to go fish a little local tournament or something." Maryland pro J.T. Kinney, winner of the Southern Open on Lake Okeechobee, on his passion for tournament fishing.