G-man meets fireman; Andy Montgomery, Elite Series rookie

G-man meets fireman

After spending the night in a downtown New Orleans firehouse, pro angler Gerald "G-man" Swindle has a deeper regard for firefighters, and especially for what they went through during Hurricane Katrina. And he proved that anglers are not the earliest risers on the planet.

From Warrior, Ala., Swindle was in Louisiana last week to scout the Delta waterways for the Bassmaster Classic. The Feb. 18-20 Classic out of New Orleans will be the first time since before Hurricane Katrina that B.A.S.S. has brought the world championship back to the Delta.

Before Swindle left home, a Facebook friend, fan and fireman invited the Bassmaster Elite Series pro to bunk in with the crew on duty. Swindle accepted. "I met some really good guys and got a look inside the fireman's world," he said. "I have a whole new respect for what those guys go through. They risk their lives every day.

They're up at 2 in the morning running to a fire. I'm up at 4:30 going to the Waffle House to get some hash browns to take with me fishing." He did not, as he'd hoped, ride in a fire engine. "I wanted to," he said. "I wanted to go out on a call, but when it came at 2 in the morning, I just couldn't get up."

Andy Montgomery, uncommon Elite Series rookie

Because he's been on the pro circuits since 2001, many fishing fans already know who Andy Montgomery is. And now that he's qualified for his first Bassmaster Classic and joined the Bassmaster Elite Series, more people will learn his name.

For those just tuning in, here are his fishing bio basics: Age 28, he is a native of Blacksburg, S.C., a small town near the North Carolina border. His home waters are Lake Wylie and Lake Norman. His father and grandfather taught him how to fish. "I've been fishing as far back as I can remember," Montgomery said. In 2001, when he was a college sophomore studying civil engineering, he entered his first FLW tournament. He continued to compete while he finished his education.

He took a job after graduation as an engineer, but within two years made the jump into full-time fishing. By 2007, he was a force on the FLW Tour and widely known as a shallow-water expert. By the end of the 2010 season, he claimed his fifth qualification for the FLW championship.

He also qualified for the 2010 Toyota Texas Bass Classic after being runner-up in the same event in 2009. He racked up 18 Top 10 FLW finishes from 2007 to 2010, but no pro-level wins. He marked that elusive milestone after he joined the 2010 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Opens tour. The win happened under two unusual circumstances: It was the first year Montgomery had gone out for a complete Open season; and the competition was on deepwater Smith Lake in Alabama, an unlikely fishery to suit Andy Montgomery. While Smith Lake stumped many anglers, Montgomery leaned on his strength: He went shallow. "It's not supposed to be a shallow fishery, but it was when I was there," he laughed. "I fished over deeper water, my baits never went down more than a foot or so."

Bookended by two other solid Southern Open finishes, the win led Montgomery into enough points for an Elite Series qualification and one of the two Classic berths awarded through the Southern Opens. "I didn't really expect to make the Classic," he said. "I was hoping to make the Elites to give me more career options.

I wanted to try something new, and I like the smaller field size, and hopefully it will open more doors for me." He stands strong on the sponsor front, a big advantage for an Elite Series rookie. Redmond, Wash.-based rod maker Fetha Styx will wrap his rig for the Elite Series season. Ranger, Evinrude and Zoom Baits also will stay with him.

He said that his focus in 2011 will be on the Elite Series, but he also registered for the Southern Opens tour. No small part of that decision was the fact that the Opens will stop in March on his home water of Lake Norman. "I wasn't going to miss that one," he said.

It's still big

The Louisiana Delta is now off-limits to anglers who qualified for the Feb. 18-20 Bassmaster Classic out of New Orleans, but many of them got in a good, long look before the Dec. 13 cutoff.

Most scouters fell into one of two categories: those who wanted to see how Hurricane Katrina rearranged the areas in which they'd found fish during previous Classic competitions; and Delta first-timers who wanted to check out the Delta's infamous navigational challenges.

Delta Classic veteran Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Texas, spent more than two days running the water. "I hadn't been there since the hurricane, so I anticipated changes," said Faircloth, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro who finished fifth in the 2001 Classic and 15th in the 2003 Classic, both on the Delta. "There are some areas you can't run that you used to be able to." He sampled the bite, but spent most of his time riding, looking for clear water and healthy grass. "There's so much water, so many canals … you have to get a feel for it all again," he said.

Andy Montgomery said he doesn't usually scout tournament waters, but made an exception for his first Classic. "You can't pre-practice enough in that place. I still don't know how to get around," the new Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Blacksburg, S.C., said after several days on the Delta.

"You can look on your GPS and see a canal, for example, but you can't run through it because it's too shallow. You could easily get stuck," said Montgomery, who qualified for the Classic and Elite Series through the 2010 Bassmaster Southern Opens season (see story above). When Elite Series pro Gerald Swindle scouted the Delta for more than three days last week, he liked what he learned. His 11 Classic qualifications include all three previous Delta Classics, so he has a good basis for comparison.

"It's a night-and-day difference," he said. "There's more vegetation now than I can ever remember. The fish seem to be bigger. When you look at the fishing reports from Venice, the guys are caching 100 to 150 bass a day and catching consistent 16- to 17-pound stringers. "As devastating as Katrina was and as devastating as the oil spill was, I think that the Louisiana Delta is probably as fruitful with bass as I've ever seen it. So many people thought it would never be the same, but the bass are still there."

And so are the challenges inherent in the Delta's vast size, he said. "You're only going to have time to fish two areas. When you make that call, when you ask that lady to dance and she says yes, you are going to dance with that lady for the rest of the night; there's no coming back and redoing it. So when you take off for Venice, that's an hour and 40 minutes, that's your commitment for the day, and you're pretty much dancing with that woman for the rest of the day."

Classic rules allow anglers another look at the fishery Feb. 11-13 and again on Feb. 16, two days before the competition begins for $500,000 and the world title.

For singles only

After busy rounds of priority registrations over the past two months, single-event registration opened up today for the 2011 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens circuit. B.A.S.S. members now are eligible to sign up for single tournaments within any of the three Opens divisions — Southern, Northern and Central. According to Chris Bowes, senior tournament manager, there are openings in pro and co-angler fields.

"We have events that fit all fishing styles and regions," he said. "We are visiting top-notch largemouth fisheries like Lake Tohopekaliga in Florida and, from Ohio shores, Lake Erie, known for giant smallmouth." Click here to view the nine-event Opens schedule. The winner of each event will automatically qualify for the 2012 Bassmaster Classic. Registration is by phone beginning at 9 a.m. ET, Dec. 14. The number is 1-877-BASS USA.

A trim for the tree

What glitters like fresh snow and grins like an angler with a 10-pounder in the livewell? The 2010 B.A.S.S. "Angling for Fun" Hallmark Keepsake Ornament, that's what.

The 2 3/4-inch sparkly snowman wears the B.A.S.S. patch on his vest, sports a hat and sunglasses, and holds his catch high. See what this frosty character looks like at Hallmark.com by clicking here, or at Bassmaster.com by clicking here.

The ornament is available only at Hallmark Gold Crown stores. The suggested retail price is $12.95. And you thought a snowman would only go ice fishing!

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