Forty years ago, Ray Scott, founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, handed Stan Sloan, a Tennessee angler, $2,000 cash and a ticket to Alcapulco when he won the All-American bass tournament on Beaver Lakein Arkansas.
At this year’s nationally televised Bassmaster Classic, the winner will receive a half-million dollars. Who would have ever believed that much money would be given for catching a little green fish? Ray Scott did.
On Feb. 22, 50 of the world’s best professional bass tournament anglers will leave the Portman Marina boat launching facility on Lake Hartwell in Greenville, S.C., for the start of the 38th Bassmaster Classic.
Each traveled throughout the country fishing various qualifying tournaments and competing with more than a thousand professionals trying to earn one of the berths in this, the World Series of bass fishing. Each knows winning this event will not only make their career, but could also lead to millions of dollars in endorsements and personal appearances. And the $500,000 first- place cash doesn’t hurt, either.
Total prize money is nearly
$1.2 million, and all contestants will receive a cash reward based on the order in which they finish. All anglers will compete for the first two days, but only the fishermen with 25 heaviest weights of bass will advance to the final day. The weigh-in will be at the Bi-Lo Arena in Greenville.
For the first time, contenders will be able to fish out of their own boats. In the past, all qualifiers were supplied with a boat and motor.
Using their own boats will allow them to market their sponsors in front of a worldwide audience.
Leading the field of 50 pros is the 2007 and now three-time winner of the BASS Angler of the Year title, Kevin VanDam of Michigan. This will be the 18th appearance for this two-time Classic winner. And considering his career earnings of over $3 million and overall performance in 2007, he has to be the man to beat.
Texas angler Gary Klein will be the most experienced contestant in the Classic with 25 previous appearances, followed by Tommy Biffle of Oklahoma with 14. And one angler you can never count out is New Jersey’s Mike Iaconelli, a proven pro angler (2003 Classic), who in just nine years on the tour has already reached the million-dollar earnings plateau. He knows how to win and excite the crowd with his screaming antics when the TV cameras are rolling.
But the angler I would like to see atop the leaderboard on the last day is Chris Loftus of Bloomfield, N.Y. This 36-year-old amateur angler made it to the Classic the hard way — through the ranks of the BASS Federation Nation qualifying tournaments, then placing third overall in the National Championship, earning a Classic berth.
Chris is a State Team Skeeter Boats member. Skeeter Boats recently joined BASS as an official boat sponsor, and will sponsor six BASS Federation Nation Divisional tournaments and the Federation Nation Championship.
ESPN, owner of BASS, will open its programming in Greenville with live coverage Feb. 22 of the 50-angler take-off with commentary by Mike Golic of ESPNs “Mike and Mike in the Morning” radio show. Coverage will be from 6 to 10 a.m.
ESPN2 will devote 11 hours to Classic programming over the three days of competition, and Bassmaster.com will provide extensive hourly coverage video of the daily weigh-ins. For the exact times, go to www.bassmaster.com.
This year’s BASS Classic will also feature the Women’s Bass Tournament Championship on nearby Lake Keowee, Feb. 21-23, in which the top 12 professionals will compete for a first-place prize of $60,000 cash and merchandise, while co-anglers in the back of their boats are competing against each other for a top prize of $34,500 in cash and merchandise.
Three ladies are favored in this event. Pam Martin-Wells of Georgia will attempt to defend her title as last year’s inaugural WBT champion. Oklahoma pro angler Sheri Glasgow, the 2007 Toyota WBT Bassmaster Angler of the Year, knows how to find fish and win, and has had several successful days of practice on Keowe. Dianna Clark of Tennessee, a two-time WBT tournament winner and the 2006 WBT Bassmaster Angler of the Year, should also be near or at the top of the leaderboard on the final day.