Classic, Elite Series berths on line at Lake Wheeler

Terry Scroggins

As the site of the Oct. 18-20 finale of the 2007 Bassmaster Southern Open season, Decatur, Ala., and Wheeler Lake will always be special places to the pros who win the Open's top prizes: berths in the 2008 Bassmaster Classic and next year's Bassmaster Elite Series.

 The three pros who come out on top in the Southern Open's points race, which ends with the Wheeler event, will score berths for the Classic — bass fishing's most prestigious competition — Feb. 22-24 on Lake Hartwell out of Greenville, S.C.

 The top five Southern Open pros will qualify for the 11-event 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series season, which kicks off next March.

 The Wheeler event also will award a top prize of $6,000 in cash and a Triton/Mercury rig valued at $50,000.

 Daily launches are at 7:45 a.m. ET Oct. 18-20 at Ingalls Harbor, 710 Market St. NW, Decatur. Weigh-ins begin at 4 p.m. ET each day at the marina. The launches and weigh-ins are free and open to the public.

 Fans at home can catch all the drama at ESPNOutdoors.com each day at 4 p.m. ET. Besides real-time leaderboards, ESPNOutdoors.com will provide live, streaming video of the weigh-ins.

 Scott Sills, 42, of Dahlonega, Ga., is one of the pros aiming for a Classic slot. He's fourth in the standings, just six points shy of third.

 "If I could somehow manage to move up and get into the top three, that would be awesome," Sills said. "It seems I'm always right on the edge, but haven't been able to grasp it. But I'm prepared for Wheeler. Maybe the timing's right this time."

 So much is on the line, Sills took time off from his work as a professional jeweler to scout the lake for more than a week.

 "The water level is normal," Sills said of Wheeler, a 67,100-acre impoundment of the Tennessee River that's home to largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. "The conditions are good and are getting better. Wheeler has the types of water I like to fish. And there's plenty of water so everyone can spread out and not pile up in one area.

 "I'm going to stick to my strengths, which is shallow-water power fishing."

 Todd Auten of Lake Wylie, S.C., is also shooting for a 2008 Classic slot. A full-time pro, Auten, 41, was a contender in the 1999 Classic and again in 2003, when he finished 13th.

 "If the hot weather continues, Wheeler might be a deeper-water bite than I'd like," said Auten, in seventh place in the points. "I'm hoping the water will be cool enough so I can fish shallow."

 Auten said he anticipates some serious competition. "Terry Scroggins has been so strong, he can just about coast into it (a Classic spot). And I sure can't count Mark Davis out."

 Scroggins, an Elite Series angler from San Mateo, Fla., is No. 1 in the Southern Open points race. Davis, of Mount Ida., Ark., is third. Sandwiched between them is Elite Series pro Charlie Hartley of Grove City, Ohio.

 The three Southern Open pros who qualify for the South Carolina Classic will join the roster of 40 who already qualified through either the Elite Series or the Bassmaster Central Open circuit. The seven remaining Classic spots will be filled next month through the championships of the BASS Federation Nation (Nov. 8-10) and the Bassmaster Weekend Series Operated by American Bass Anglers (Nov. 14-17).

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