OUTDOOR CORNER: Fifty anglers face off in Bassmaster Classic

Lyle Johnson
This was the scene at the Bayou Segnette State Park boat launch on practice morning as contenders get ready to leave for a day of fishing.

Last week we talked about the “where” of this year’s Bassmaster Classic; this week, let’s talk about the “who.” Fifty anglers will compete for the $500,000 first place check, but if you ask them, the title means the most. The money will eventually be spent and gone, but the title will never go away.

The anglers qualify for the Classic in different ways; the defending champ gets the first spot. That would be Kevin VanDam. The next 36 make it by Angler of the Year points by earning them at all the Elite events during the year. The top two finishers in points from the Southern, Central and Northern Opens make up the next six spots.

Six anglers qualify through the Federation Nation Championships. The top angler in each division within the Federation Nation gets those opportunities. The last spot goes to the Weekend Series Champion and that makes up the 50 spots.

Kevin VanDam; he’s on the top of everybody’s list. VanDam won his first Classic here in 2001 and the change to a cold-weather format only helps him. He’s fishing great (I spent the practice day with him), has won two consecutive Angler of the Year titles and loves the Delta. History is not on his side, because only one pro has ever won back-to-back Classics. That was Rick Clunn and it happened 34 years ago.

Greg Hackney; he’s my sentimental favorite because he’s our hometown hero. But sentiment aside, he’s very familiar with the Delta and a really good angler. A Classic victory would give him both tour Championship titles as he won the Forest Wood Cup in Pittsburg two years ago. He’s a motivated fisherman right now.

Cliff Pace; his hometown is Petal, Mississippi and he’s spent a lot of his time fishing the Delta, probably the most familiar with it’s vast waters than anyone in the Classic. He is a super consistent angler and he’ll perform no different for this event; a top ten favorite for sure.

Gary Klein; he has fished a staggering number of Classics – more than anyone who hasn’t won – and this venue was the scene of his 2nd-place heartbreak in 2003. He loves the Delta and he’s got the history and the understanding of the fishery, he’s a flipper; he’s fishing the best he has in several years, and he’s hungry for a Classic title. All that adds up to Klein being one of the pre-Classic favorites.

Mike Iaconelli; he’s an early favorite to win it all for several reasons. Ike won here in 2003 and finished 6th as a Federation qualifier in ‘99. He just has a connection with the Delta that’s uncanny. Plus, he’s fishing extremely well of late and two seasons ago, missed winning the Classic and the Cup by less than a pound in combined weight. This one means a lot to Ike and he’ll be chasing the trophy with every ounce of his will.

Skeet Reese; he’s the No. 1-ranked angler in the world and was far and away the hottest angler in the sport last year. His historic run included five consecutive Elite Series Top 5s, two of which were wins. He lost the AOY title this year and last in the post-season after he won the regular season – two bitter pills – but he’s hungrier than ever to cement his dominance. He likes to pitch and flip and that might well be the winning pattern.

Scott Rook; he’s my “hunch” pick. Although his last two years have been somewhat inconsistent, he loves Louisiana. At a Central Open in the Atchafalaya Basin a few years ago, he stated, “Man, I love Louisiana fish. They love to eat and the bite hard.” He’s also a “river-rat” and that fits this area well.

Bill Lowen; he’s my dark horse pick. Not because he’s not a good fisherman, he’s just off the radar in most of the other picks. This is only his third Bassmaster Classic, so experience is not on his side. But he’s a hard fisherman that does like to fish in shallow water. I think he’ll make a good showing.

If you’ve never attended a Bassmaster Classic, I urge you to give it a try. Make a day out of it and attend the Classic Outdoor Expo at the Morial Convention Center. Park your vehicle at the Riverwalk. You can walk through the Riverwalk Mall and continue to the Convention Center and spend some time viewing all the new stuff.

There’s a free shuttle bus service that runs from the Convention Center to the New Orleans Arena for the weigh-in. The shuttle will take you pack to the Outdoor Expo after the weigh-in. You only have to park once with the shuttle service. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.

I got a chance to ride with Kevin VanDam on the practice day and you’ll get that story next week. You don’t want to miss this one as my time on the water with the best bass angler in the world will show many sides of the man and some humor added just for fun. Remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Until next time have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God bless you.