CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When sports fans think of the Tar Heel state, the college basketball of Tobacco Road and NASCAR racing immediately come to mind. When the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer hits Lake Wylie at the end of the month, two North Carolina anglers hope to change the mind-set.
Both Dustin Wilks of Rocky Mount and Chris Baumgardner of Gastonia are excited to see the world championship of bass fishing in their home state.
"It's a big change from New Orleans, not as expansive. It's a lot more civilized," Wilks said with a laugh. "It's a whole lot more familiar to me as far as the type of fishery."
"I'm happy with it, of course," drawled the soft-spoken father of one. "I've fished Wylie all my life; it's where I learned to fish."
And while Wilks doesn't have the time on Wylie that Baumgardner has, he thinks that may actually help in his quest for the title.
"I won't be tempted to run to places I've caught fish before," said Wilks, who has a degree in fisheries biology from NC State University in Raleigh. "Plus, it's only four hours from my home, which is really nice. A lot of my friends are going down, along with my wife, mom, dad, and brother. I've had guys calling me up from my (BASS Federation) bass club days congratulating me. It's like my first Classic."
Baumgardner, too, should have a cheering section of family and friends in the stands come weigh-in time.
"I reckon they'll show," he joked. "I hope I can give them something to cheer for."
In addition, Wilks noted that he made the Classic as the 10th qualifier on the Elite 50 series, the last man standing at the door.
Both anglers had good practice days on the lake before the off-limits deadline.
"It's a perfect lake; clean water, dirty water, shallow cover, deep cover," said Wilks. "If it stays hot, it could be a real shallow tournament. It'll take close to 15 pounds a day to win it. There's enough 2.5-pounders to make a 12-pound sack not that spectacular."
Baumgardner, with much more experience on Wylie, had a more genial approach to practice.
"Actually, I had a fairly good practice," he said. "I kind of went out looked at it, kind of feeling out things. I didn't really want to fish my best places. To win, I'm thinking 15 pounds a day. It's got a lot of 2- to 4-pounders. I plan on catching most of my fish shallow."
One thing the two Tar Heel anglers agreed on was the favorite.
"I guess Jason Quinn would be one of the favorites," said Baumgardner, who falls in that category himself. "He's a good offshore angler."
Wilks was more succinct.
"Jason Quinn is definitely the favorite," he said. "I think he's been fishing Wylie since he could breathe."
Regardless of an anointed favorite, there will be 53 of the best bass anglers in the world playing the same course, hoping for that one big bite, for a limit that will bring them the $200,000 first prize and a whirlwind year as Classic champion.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Local Sponsors include the Charlotte Regional Sports Commission, Visit Charlotte, the Auditorium-Coliseum-Convention Center Authority, the Rock Hill Sports and Tourism Council and Time Warner Cable.