Classic XXXIII Contenders Set to Chase $200,000 Top Prize

NEW ORLEANS - July 29 - The world's 61 hottest bass pros converged on New Orleans Tuesday, prepared to take their first steps on the road to the most important tournament in professional fishing - the $700,000 CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer.

The anglers represent the best from the 2002-03 CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail and BASS Federation. All earned their invitations to bass fishing's world championship through a grueling elimination process that took place in bass-laden locales throughout the United States. Beginning Friday, they will invade the massive shallow marshland known as the Louisiana Delta and begin casting about for the $200,000 top prize.

The fishermen have not seen the Delta since it went off-limits to them a month ago. As the talented field prepares to return to the most productive spots or scout out new areas during the lone practice day on Wednesday, three pros take with them the special advantage of having won BASS events on these waters.

Oklahoma's Kenyon Hill, winner of the Bassmaster Tour finale two months ago, won the Top 150 competition on the Delta in 1998.

"It helps quite a bit because it gives you confidence in the area, as well as the main technique," Hill said. "Every tournament down here, starting with the one I won, has been won flipping. So you know you've got to do that. You've got to keep a flipping stick in your hand if you want to have a chance of winning."

South Carolina's Davy Hite ran roughshod over the 1999 Classic field with a total catch of more than 55 pounds on the Delta.

"Having won a Classic any time is an advantage because it just gives you that self-confidence to go do your thing," Hite said. "Having won here on the Delta is an advantage here because it's so big.

"I know at least one summer, a few years ago, I had them figured out better than anyone else, and I kind of got a feel for this water at this time of year. It gives me an extra boost of confidence going in."

Michigan's Kevin VanDam was the most recent Delta BASS winner, taking the wheel at the 2001 Classic. Prior to that event, VanDam was known as the most decorated angler never to have won a Classic. Like Hite, VanDam finds strength in having won a Delta Classic.

"I think winning any Classic gives you more confidence," VanDam noted. "I'll tell you, I feel a whole lot different going into a Classic having won it, finally, because of the pressure of not having won one. Now I don't have to hear questions about how it feels to be the best angler to never have won it.

"The only advantage I have is that I have fished four tournaments here in hot times of the year like this. I've got a little bit of experience in what to do when things change."

All three former Delta winners emphasized that this Classic site is far different from most previous Classic waters. And those differences create special challenges.

"This is one of my favorite places because there are so many places to fish," Hill said. "Literally, you can catch a bass from stem to stern in this place. It's really a special place.

"I'm anxious to get out there. I found some stuff late on the last day of practice and I want to expand on it (Wednesday). So (Wednesday) is a real important day for me, and I'm looking forward to getting out there."

Hite said that the biggest difference is that the Delta offers "so many options. At Lay Lake (site of the 2002 Classic), you can basically bounce around and have a milk run from one end of the lake to the other. But here you've got so many options that are so far apart. You've got to commit to one of those, and it's do or die.

"There are no milk runs on this lake. Your milk will be delivered or not delivered. You just have to make that decision and go with it."

And VanDam offered his take:

"New Orleans is so much different than any other place we'd fish a Classic because of the vastness and the distance between the potential areas," he said. "At Lay Lake or High Rock or any of the other smaller lakes, you could run up the river and try something, and if it doesn't work out you still have plenty of time to adjust. Here, if you go to a certain region and it's no good, you don't have time to check anything else. You're stuck in that area.

"And this year, the potential to win is everywhere. When I won here, you didn't have that potential in a couple of the areas. This time I think the tournament could be won out of any of the four main areas. The fish are in all four areas."

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 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, 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 State of Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, and Jefferson Parish.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (504) 304-2563.