NEW ORLEANS, La. — Bryan Kerchal. Dalton Bobo. Danny Correia.
Those are the names haunting and inspiring the five BASS Federation club members who rose through the ranks of thousands of amateur anglers and survived a grueling, year-long elimination process to earn the right to compete against the nation's best tournament pros for the most important tournament in professional fishing — the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer.
That's because Kerchal, a little-known Connecticut fry cook, shocked the fishing world in 1994 by becoming the only amateur to win the Classic crown. And both Bobo and Correia came within mere ounces of making fishing history.
Because of those three fishermen, each of this year's five Federation anglers will venture into the Louisiana Delta in New Orleans Aug. 1-3 with a realistic hope of making a run at the Classic championship.
"That's the reason why a lot of us do this sport," said Florida's Jerry Shawver, winner of the 2003 CITGO BASS Federation Championship. "For the 50,000 Federation members, the reason why they pay their dues is because of the opportunity to fish the Bassmaster Classic. Not just to fish it, but to win it, because on any given day you can beat anybody in this sport."
Make no mistake about it: the Federation Classic contingent includes some talented anglers. You can't survive the lengthy Federation elimination route to reach the coveted Classic without being both smart and talented.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see a Federation fisherman win the Classic again," said former Classic champion Denny Brauer, who got his start in the Nebraska BASS Federation. "Bryan won it a few years ago, the Federation angler finished in the top five last year and Dalton Bobo would have won it if he hadn't had a dead fish. There's been several close calls. It really depends on who gets on the right bunch of fish and who has everything go right for them.
"I think it has really changed from back when I got started. I think the guys are better fishermen and more prepared. They probably have been in more large, regional-type events. I just think it's probably a better quality angler there than it was 15 or 20 years ago."
Shawver, 32, a member of the First Coast Christian bass Club in Jacksonville, is a four-time Florida state team member who won the second Federation championship he fished.
Fresh from competing in the recent ESPN Great Outdoor Games, the high school teacher says he isn't intimidated by the prospect of being an amateur swimming in a school of professional sharks in the upcoming Classic.
"Probably because of my faith, I've always kind of looked at (celebrities) and professionals in sports as just other people," he said. "That we're all the same. Some people just excel in certain things and because of the media become big.
"… I've gotten here because I have reacted to certain weather changes and I'm able to read the water. You have to have a lot of God-given intuition with fishing to make it this far, but you know that everyone else that's here has the same stuff. You don't feel that extra advantage where you don't have to worry about three-quarters of the guys. In this tournament, you know for a fact that anybody can win and anybody can finish last."
Shawver's six-day scouting trip to the Delta last month didn't help his confidence.
"My practice was tough," he said. "It's an enormous body of water. One way I ran two hours and another way I ran another hour. I think if I fished there for 30 straight days, I might be able to cover every bit of fishable water that this tournament allows you to fish. But we only had six."
In contrast, Cole Garrett's practice period has him excited about his prospects.
The 30-year-old heavy equipment operator from northwest Louisiana represents the Federation's Central Division as a member of the Bassin' Bandits.
I'm not nervous at all," Garrett said. "I'm just tickled to be there.
"I had a pretty good practice. The fish that I found were in one area, and I'd get two or three bites a day in other areas. In 10 minutes, I could catch 10 to 14 pounds of fish in the good area that I found. (My chances) are real good. I'm confident. It's exactly what I want. It's flipping into heavy cover, which is what I do the best."
Other Classic Federation pros
Ron Schachten, 34, is a contractor from Driggs, Idaho, representing the Western Division. A member of the Jackson Hole Bassmasters, he competed in the past two national championships.
Joel St. Germain, 36, works as an international sales engineer in Cumberland, R.I. As a member of the Northern Rhode Island Bass Anglers club, he has been involved in the Federation for 11 years and qualified for the state team eight times.
Karl Guegold, 39, is a stay-at-home dad from McKenna, Ohio. This member of the Buckeye Division Pros club represents the Federation¹s Northern Division.