What's it like to be third in line for a Bassmaster Classic seat, knowing only two seats are available?
Ask Chip Harrison, Randall Tharp or Clark Reehm. Each holds that so-close, yet-so-far-away third-angler position in their respective 2010 Bassmaster Open divisions, each of which awards Classic tickets to the top two points earners.
Harrison from Bremen, Ind., is the third angler in the Northern division. Tharp from Gardendale, Ala., is the Southern's No. 3. Reehm, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro who recently changed his address to Lufkin, Texas (see below), ranks third in the points standings in the Central Open.
Each Open division has one more tournament through which pros can earn points toward entry in the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 18-20 on the Louisiana Delta out of New Orleans.
"The Classic is my No. 1 priority," said Harrison, a full-time pro gunning for his first Classic entry. He's qualified for four national championships in other major circuits, and just this season got back into Bassmaster competitions.
"When the Northern Opens came out with their schedule this year, and they had one on Champlain and one on the Detroit River, which are two of my favorite bodies of water, I couldn't pass it up. I thought it would be a good chance to try to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic," he said.
Harrison sits one point away from his goal: He has 511 Northern Open points to Wisconsin angler Travis Manson's 512 points.
Much tougher for Harrison would be to topple leader Ryan Said of Wixom, Mich. With 585 points, Said has a significant head start going into the division's final event, Sept. 16-18 on the Chesapeake Bay out of Cecil County, Md.
"I've never been to the Chesapeake Bay, so I'll have to do some research and practice hard," Harrison said. "I've got a great opportunity and I'm going to go for broke to make it."
In the Southern Open, third-man Tharp has 538 points to the 546 points of Bassmaster Elite Series pro Bobby Lane of Florida. Points leader Andy Montgomery of South Carolina has 550. The Southern Open finale will be Oct. 7-9 on Lake Seminole out of Bainbridge, Ga.
The Central Open race isn't nearly as close. To make it in 2011 for his second Classic appearance, Reehm must overtake Keith Combs of Texas. Combs holds the No. 2 spot with 545 points to Reehm's 502 points.
Reehm said that to capture a Classic seat, he'll have to turn in a flawless performance and Combs will have to commit uncharacteristic errors.
"I've got a lot of confidence, but the fact is, he would have to falter," Reehm said. "I don't think he will, bar mechanical problems or something like that. And I wouldn't like that; nobody wants to win by default."
Almost 100 points in front of Reehm is leader Craig Schuff of Watauga, Texas. From below, Schuff's 600 points looks formidable.
"I've never seen that big of a lead in the Opens," Reehm said.
The third time's the charm. — or so hopes Bill Golightly of Preston, Idaho. As a recent qualifier for the 2010 BASS Federation Nation Championship, Golightly is set for his third attempt at a Bassmaster Classic berth.
"For sure I want to make it to the Classic," he said. "That's what we're all after."
Golightly will be one of 55 Championship qualifiers in competition on the Red River, Oct. 27-29, out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La. The Championship will, in turn, qualify six amateur anglers for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic.
It will be Golightly's third BFN Championship — or "The Nationals," as anglers tend to refer to it. Whatever one may call the decades-old event, it is the pinnacle of amateur competition, and has launched many a pro's career.
But make no mistake: Golightly isn't interested in turning pro. He likes working in the family business, a flood- and fire-restoration service. At age 37, he is much too satisfied with life as it is. He's into local competitions as well as Federation events.
"I just love to fish," he said. "I have a great family; I fish a lot with my Dad and my wife also fishes Federation events. We all have made the state team, so it's a family thing we do together."
Golightly's three Championship berths were earned by outfishing all other members of his state team in the Western Division. This year, he was on the Wyoming team — he lives so close to the states' border, he regularly crosses over (common in Federation Nation competition). He hauled in more poundage from the Colorado River than other Wyoming team members, thus earning a ticket to the 2010 Championship in Louisiana.
He also qualified for the 2004 and 2006 Championships. He did well — 15th in 2006 — but fell short of being the best in the West, what was needed to win a Classic seat.
Golightly still doesn't know the names of all the anglers he'll be up against on the Red River, simply because the full field isn't yet set. Two of six Federation Divisionals remain: the Mid-Atlantic, Sept. 6-10 in Delaware; and the Eastern, Sept. 20-24 out of Danbury, Conn.
He does know that the competition's getting stiffer.
"It's harder now to qualify than it used to be. Everybody's getting better," he said.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Clark Reehm has relocated to Lufkin, Texas, near Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
Lufkin is his girlfriend's hometown. They're expecting a child, a son, whom they plan to name Ash Rayburn — after, of course, the lake. From Russellville, Ark., Reehm had been the only non-Texan in the top six of the Bassmaster Central Open points race.
"It doesn't matter how many tournaments I win, or how many big fish I catch — or lose for that matter — I'm just 'Daddy' to them, and it puts life in perspective for me." — Bassmaster Elite Series pro Skeet Reese referring to his two daughters in his Aug. 17 Bassmaster.com blog