How would you like to have the opportunity to bass fish for $300,000 and an added chance to parlay that win into another million dollars of endorsements?
That’s exactly what the 56 professional bass fishing anglers who have qualified for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic Feb. 21-23 on Lake Guntersville in Birmingham, Ala., will be doing. It’s the Super Bowl of bass fishing, and these are the best-of-the-best in the cast-for-cash game.
They’ve competed all over the United States against thousands of other pro anglers, and they all know this tournament can be a definitive monetary turning point in their angling career. All of these anglers will receive a piece of the more than $1 million dollars in prize money, but they’re gunning for that Classic trophy and what it means career-wise.
This year, Bassmaster Classic 44’s title sponsor is Geico. Other sponsors include Toyota, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Evans Williams Bourbon, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats and Yamaha.
I’ve had the opportunity to attend 10 Classics, and have ridden with a number of contestants as a press observer during their practice days and during actual tournaments. It’s truly exciting sitting in the boat watching their tactics and lure choices. Press observers no longer ride with contestants, but it was fun for me while it lasted. These guys are truly the best of the best.
When those 56 boats leave the launch, they have 69,000 acres (107 square miles) of water to choose from. The lake, which receives a tremendous amount of bass fishing pressure, is considered one of the five best bass fisheries in the U.S. The qualifiers familiar with this lake expect that they will need a daily bag of five bass totaling 20 pounds or perhaps even as much as 23-25 pounds to win or place.
There are nine qualifiers who live in Alabama who will be competing, but only one has won a Bassmaster Classic. Chris Lane won the 2012 title on the Red River in Louisiana. The only angler to win a Classic in his home state was Boyd Duckett in 2007 on Lay Lake in Alabama.
Those to Watch
A number of other qualifiers with some impressive credentials will be fishing. Besides Lane, there’s Mark Davis, Mike Iaconelli, Alton Jones, Takahiro Omori, Cliff Pace, Skeet Reese and one of the guys that’s always a threat to win, Kevin VanDam, who has four Classic wins along with seven Angler-of-the-Year titles. This will be his 24th consecutive Bassmaster Classic
appearance. He has total Bassmaster earnings of more than $5.5 million.
Also, Arron Martens, the 2013 Bassmaster Angler of the Year, must be considered. He had five top-10 finishes last year, not easy with the quality of fishing competition he faced. It takes quite a bit to win this trophy, and there are seven other Angler of the Year winners fishing this year, including Brent Chapman, Iaconelli, Gary Cline, Reese, Gerald Swindle, Kevin VanDam and Davis.
I was in the boat with Davis on one of the competition days in 1995 when he won the Classic on High Rock Lake in Greensboro, N.C. He was the first pro angler to win the Angler of the Year and Bassmaster Classic in the same year.
Lane however, who lives on Lake Guntersville, said he would like to win in his hometown and state.
“There’s added pressure when it comes to fulfilling the expectations people have of you because you’re fishing at home,” he said. “I think my biggest challenge will be time management, using my time each evening preparing for the next day’s competition. It’s hard to put everything else aside when you’re at home.”
He also says that by February, the lake’s bass will have been feeding to get in shape for the spawn, and they’ll be as fat as they get all year. This means a limit of five bass a day will be needed to stay on top of the leaderboard.
His prediction for the winning weight, weather permitting, is 83 pounds, which would break the Classic’s record of 69 pounds, 11 ounces set in 2011 on the Louisiana Delta by VanDam.
The Last Man
The top 175 anglers who competed in the Bassmaster professional series events but did not make the Classic have an opportunity to earn the final Classic spot (56th), by fishing the end-of-the-season Wild Card Tournament. The tournament was held Dec. 5-7 on Lake Okeechobee in Florida, and attracted a field of 49 anglers. It had quite an exciting finish.
For two days, Shaye Baker of Alabama had the lead, but on the final day, Illinois pro Chad Morgenthaler’s bag of five bass totaling 20 pounds, 12 ounces, gave him a come-from-behind win with 63 pounds, 13 ounces. He credited his win to flipping D Bomber plastic baits with 5/0 hooks and a two-ounce tungsten weigh with a heavy eight-foot Carrot Stik rod. There was no first-place cash, but Morgenthaler got a Golden Ticket to admit him to compete in the Classic.
ESPN2 television coverage of the event will begin with the first day of competition, March 1, from 10-11 a.m. For further coverage dates and times, go to www.bassmaster.-com/tv-schedule.