Last week, six amateur bass anglers from the United States and abroad earned a chance to compete in bass fishing’s most major event, the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic, by winning their divisions in the 33rd BASS Federation Championship tournament, held Jan. 11-13 in Leesburg, Fla.
ESPN2 will air coverage Saturday, Jan. 21, at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will re-air on Jan. 27 at 7 a.m. and again on Jan. 30 at noon.
With their places in the CITGO Bassmaster Classic field set, the six anglers will return to Florida and compete with the world’s best professional bass anglers Feb. 24-26 at Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee. The Classic offers $500,000 to the winner and an overall prize purse of nearly $1.2 million. Of course, each of the six amateurs is confident heading into the prestigious tournament.
“You’ve got to have confidence or you might as well not get into it,” said Joe Conway of Colorado Springs, Colo., winner of the Western Division in the Federation Championship. “I know I’m from Colorado and all of these guys are really good, but I can put a bait in the water just as well.”
Competing at the Bassmaster Classic is a dream many amateur anglers have, but few get to experience. James Kennedy of Lacombe, La., the Federation Central division winner, said taking the title – and the $500,000 first-place prize – would be a life-changing event. “I’ve always wanted to go to the Classic. To be able to go there and have a chance to win it just like the rest of the field is my dream.”
Three of the six Federation qualifiers aren’t Bassmaster Classic newcomers and hope their past experience will come in handy next month. “When you go there for the first time, it can overwhelm you and I don’t think you focus so much on fishing,” said Bob Soley of Trenton, N.J., winner of the Mid-Atlantic division and a plumber by trade. “Once you get the experience of going through it one time, you know what to expect, so I think that’ll give me an advantage when I go.”
Joel St. Germain of Cumberland R.I. and winner of the Eastern division also said he expects calmer nerves than his last appearance in 2003. “I think I’ll be a bit more relaxed this time going into it than I was before when I got caught up in some of the glamour.”
The 55 anglers who competed in the Federation Championship survived a difficult, year-long elimination process to make it to the tournament, but some have been trying even longer to make it to the Super Bowl of bass fishing. Because of roller coaster-like careers, achieving a Classic berth means even more.
“It’s a good point in my career,” said Jimmy Johnson of La Crosse, Wis., the Northern Division winner and 2001 Bassmaster Classic contender. “It’s more of a highlight to make it twice. It justifies my tournament fishing and kind of proves it.”
Southern division winner Anré De Villiers of South Africa, who also won the Federation Championship tournament overall, overcame an even more strenuous process.
“It’s a bit more difficult in South Africa because you qualify over a three-year period,” he said. “You don’t just win one tournament; it’s taken on an average and your history counts, so it’s quite difficult to get the preferred spot. I’ve been working quite hard for maybe 12 years now. I finally made it and I’m absolutely ecstatic.”
BASS is the worldwide authority on bass fishing, sanctioning more than 20,000 events through the BASS Federation 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 CITGO 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 550,000 members. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208 or visit www.bassmaster.com.