Retired firefighter George Crain of Cropwell, Ala., went after a seat in the 2011 Bassmaster Classic three different ways. One avenue, the BASS Federation Nation, panned out for him last weekend. Crain, 58, placed 2nd in a field of 55 amateur anglers in the Oct. 27-29 BASS Federation Nation Championship presented by Yamaha and Skeeter Boats on the Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana.
His finish was the best within the Southern Division, an accomplishment for which a ticket to the 2011 Classic is the award. Crain said he's been working on a Classic entry through the Federation Nation for seven seasons. When he qualified for the 2010 Federation championship, he made the most of the opportunity, even though the Red was new water for him. He invested in one early scouting trip and during official practice days, he hit the river hard.
One of his finds was a 600-yard creek channel that was protected from the Red's high winds, a factor he recognized as a potential game-changer. Come tournament time, the wind did blow. He returned to the sheltered channel, and hit it three days running. It produced all of his fish but one for a 24-10 total.
Good as that weight was, Brandon Palaniuk's 29-9 was better, and Crain had to settle for second chair. Palaniuk's win meant Crain missed out on a Skeeter-Yamaha rig, a prize Crain said he could have used to replace his 14-year-old Skeeter.
"I lost probably a 4-pounder that last day," Crain said. "Had I fished clean, I could have given him a run for the money. But that's just part of it (fishing). I'm just thrilled to death to be going to the Classic." It was a long time coming.
While Crain retired four years ago from his job as a full-time Birmingham, Ala., firefighter, that did not mean he could stop working. He still had a home-building business to run. "I had two jobs for 30 years, so my fishing always had to be third," he said. "After I retired, I had more time for fishing." While BASS Federation Nation events got more of his time, he also competed in the 2010 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open circuit.
A 34th points finish left him short of either of the Southern's Classic seats. His other Classic attempt this year was through the Bassmaster Weekend Series operated by American Bass Anglers. Like the Federation Nation, the Weekend Series is a long, rough road of local, regional and divisional qualifying events. Crain made it into the final round, the Nov. 3-6 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Weekend Series National Championship. The winner gets $100,000 and a Classic seat.
Crain said he had to bow out. The fact that the Federation and Weekend Series championships were back-to-back, or that he already had a Classic entry, had nothing to do with his decision. "I had some plans that conflicted with that (Weekend Series) championship, so as much as I hate it, I'm not going to be able to fish it," he said. "And I knew that going in." At 58, Crain will not be the oldest angler in the 2011 Classic. Mississippi pro Paul Elias, who claimed a Classic seat through the Bassmaster Elite Series, is 59.
New Bassmaster Classic qualifier Sean Alvarez is the first to hail from Vermont. Now, only Wyoming, North Dakota, Hawaii and Alaska have yet to send qualifiers to a Classic, this year set for Feb. 18-20 on the Louisiana Delta out of New Orleans. From the Vermont town of Rutland, Alvarez qualified for the 2011 Classic through the BASS Federation Nation Championship, which wrapped up Friday, Oct. 29, in Shreveport-Bossier City, La., after a three-day competition on the Red River. To claim his Classic spot, Alvarez trumped the other eight anglers within his Eastern Division.
When he won the BASS Federation Nation Championship last weekend, 22-year-old Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, became the youngest angler yet to qualify for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic. His qualification brings to mind the most famous of all Federation Nation qualifiers: Bryan Kerchal, the 23-year-old Connecticut fry cook who in 1994 was the first Federation angler to win a Classic. Palaniuk, who will turn 23 Wednesday, might end up being the youngest competitor in the 2011 Classic, but he can't yet claim that distinction. He'll have to wait until the 50th and final Classic seat is filled by the winner of the Nov. 3-6 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Weekend Series National Championship on Alabama's Lake Guntersville. Of the 200 boater entrants at Guntersville, at least one is younger than Palaniuk. He's 19-year-old Danny Jones of North East, Pa.
One of the 200 so-called "weekend" anglers competing Nov. 3-6 on Alabama's Lake Guntersville will become 2011 Bassmaster Classic qualifier No. 50. The boater-division winner of the 2010 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Weekend Series National Championship will win the right to compete in the Feb. 18-20 Classic on the Louisiana Delta out of New Orleans. A win is worth $100,000, plus possible contingency money, in addition to the Classic berth. Points winners from 21 Weekend Series divisions qualified for the Guntersville event, but the majority on the national championship roster is made up of the top 50 boaters from each of four regional Weekend Series championships. Formerly owned by BASS, the Weekend Series now is produced by American Bass Anglers out of Athens, Ala. For more information and tournament results, go to www.abaproam.com.
Is an ounce a small measure, one of little consequence? Not in competitive fishing. To dismiss the power of an ounce in fishing would be like saying a tag at home plate can't decide a World Series, a nose can't win the Kentucky Derby, or one one-hundredth of a second has no bearing on which speed-skater wears Olympic gold.
Unlikely to forget the downside of an ounce — the ouch of the ounce, if you will — are Harry Marsh III of New Berlin, Wis., and Henry Schomaker of Pineville, W.Va. Both lost by ounces in the Oct. 29 Junior Bassmaster World Championship on Louisiana's Cross Lake. Besting Marsh by 2 ounces was Alex Wetherell of Middletown, Conn., who won in the 15-18 age division with a 4-5 total. In the 11-14 age division, Schomaker was down by 1 ounce to Chris Catucci of Warwick, R.I., who claimed the title with 5-12 (see complete tournament standings below). With the victory, Schomaker and Wetherell took home $5,000 in scholarship prizes apiece.
"It's kind of heartbreaking," said Marsh, 17, a high school junior who made it to the Junior World in his first year of club fishing through the New Berlin (Wis.) Junior Brushhawgs. "He (Wetherell) had four fish, I had two fish. If I only would have had one more fish, just one more small fish, I could have won." But, he agrees, that's fishing. And the 2-ounce disappointment isn't going to stop him from trying again. "I'm hopefully going to win the Wisconsin state tournament again so I can move on to the northern divisionals again," he said.
"I'm going to try my hardest to get back to the (Junior ) World Championship." Final standings of the 2010 Junior Bassmaster World Championship: 10-29-10, Cross Lake, Shreveport-Bossier City, La.
Age 15-18 Division Angler City,State Division #Fish Weight 1. Alex Wetherell Middletown, Conn. Eastern 4 4-05 2. Harry Marsh III New Berlin, Wis. Northern 2 4-03 3. Logan Holt Creedmoor, N.C. Southern 2 3-10 4. John Duarte Baltimore, Md. Mid-Atl. 2 2-08 5. Matt Nobile Paulina, La. Central 1 1-05 6. Tanner Cooper Farmington, N.M. Western 0 0-00 Age 11-14 Division Angler City,State Division #Fish Weight 1. Chris Catucci Warwick, R.I. Eastern 2 5-12 2. Henry Schomaker Pineville, W.Va. Mid-Atl. 2 5-11 3. Ryan Edwards Stuart, Fla. Southern 4 4-02 4. Nick Luna Grain Valley, Kan. Central 2 3-12 5. Ethan Peterson Post Falls, Idaho Western 1 1-01 6. Joshua Lee Star Prairie, Wis. Northern 0 0-00