BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The excitement is already building in anticipation of the return of the prestigious CITGO BASSMASTERS Classic extravaganza to Birmingham, Alabama's Lay Lake in Shelby County July 25-27.
The Classic is much more than just the crowning event of the CITGO BASSMASTER Tournament Trail. Classic Week is the annual celebration of the sport of bass fishing that attracts B.A.S.S. members and fishing fans from across the country. They will invade Birmingham to meet their fishing heroes, attend the weigh-ins and participate in youth and other fan-friendly events in the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center that include the highly popular Classic Outdoor Show.
During the July week, Birmingham and Shelby County will be alive with bass boats and bass fans. The city has hosted four well-attended Classics, while Lay Lake was the scene of the 1996 Classic — one of the closest Classics in history, in which George Cochran edged Davy Hite by 1 pound.
"It's exciting having the Classic back in Birmingham," said Alabama native son Tim Horton, the 2000 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year who lives in Muscle Shoals. "Birmingham is just a great place to have the Classic.
"The Birmingham Classics are always big attendance Classics. I was in attendance as a spectator when Dion (Hibdon in 1997) and George won the Classics in Birmingham. At those Classics, Saturday was standing-room-only and there were a lot of people outside. For people coming on Saturday this year, I would suggest getting there early to get a seat.
"Birmingham is a nice central location for the Classic for just about everybody living in the Southeast. It's a good drive from Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas. It's going to be a big show."
Horton won't be a spectator this year. Qualifying for his third consecutive Classic appearance by finishing third in the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year race, Horton, 29, is one of the pre-tournament favorites.
"I'm real excited about the Classic being right here in Birmingham because I live right there," added Randy Howell, a resident of Trussville, Ala., who will be making his fourth Classic appearance. "It's only 20 minutes from my house to the Civic Center, and I know a lot of people and have a lot of friends in that area now."
Jamie Horton will have his share of friends and fans there, too. The 34-year-old pipe fabrication shop supervisor from Centreville, Ala., is one of five amateurs who qualified for the Classic through the B.A.S.S. Federation system.
"I'm thrilled to make a Classic (being held) in Birmingham," Jamie Horton said. "I think Lay Lake will be a great Classic lake."
Lay Lake is an impoundment of the Coosa River located about 40 miles from Birmingham. With more than 250 miles of shoreline and 12,000 acres, Lay Lake is home to a sizeable population of both largemouth and spotted bass.
"Lay Lake is going to be a good site for the Classic," Tim Horton said. "You can fish a variety of different ways. You can fish shallow as George Cochran did to win the last time the Classic was there. Or you can get out a little deeper to catch them.
"It's going to be exciting. It's going to be hot weather and the fishing's going to be hot."
The fishery went off limits to any potential Classic qualifier January 1, 2002, and will not re-open until the official pre-practice days June 24-29. Lay Lake will then be off limits until the official practice day for the Classic.
The launch venue for the event will be Paradise Point Marina. The exciting CITGO BASS Masters Classic weigh-in show and the Classic Outdoor Show will take place in the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. With the exception of the launch site, all of the venues for the event are in close proximity. The Classic will air live on ESPN2 on July 25 and 26 from 5-6 p.m. ET and on ESPN from 7-8 p.m. ET on July 27.
By sanctioning over 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its B.A.S.S. Federation, B.A.S.S. is the world's largest fishing organization. The CITGO BASSMASTER Tournament Trail is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit. It continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism, and sportsmanship after more than three decades.
Sponsors of the 2002 CITGO BASS Masters Classic include CITGO Petroleum Corporation, Chevrolet Trucks, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Stowaway Batteries, Kumho Tires, Long John Silver's, Gore-Tex Outerwear, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, Bass Pro Shops, Armstrong Industrial Hand Tools, GMAC/ B.A.S.S. Vehicle & Boat Insurance, and B.A.S.S. Platinum Visa/First USA.
Associate Sponsors include Bass Cat Boats and G3 Boats.