CELEBRATION, Fla. — BASS has hosted 36 Bassmaster Classics in its illustrious history and not one has featured a winner that hailed from the state the marquee event was held in.
Perhaps 2007 will be the year history doesn't repeat itself as the field of 50 includes nine accomplished anglers who hail from Alabama. The 2007 edition of bass-fishing's most major event is slated for Feb. 23-25 on Lay Lake out of Birmingham.
"You would think that someday somebody would win a Classic that's held in their homestate," said Gerald Swindle, the 2004 Bassmaster Angler of the Year from Warrior, Ala. "This could be the one where it happens."
Joining Swindle in Classic XXXVII are Alabama residents Aaron Martens of Leeds (2005 Bassmaster Angler of the Year); Steve Kennedy (2006 Toyota Rookie of the Year) of Auburn; Russ Lane of Prattville; Randy Howell of Springville; Lee Bailey of Boaz; Tim Horton of Muscle Shoals; Boyd Duckett of Demopolis; and newly relocated Alabama resident Derek Remitz of Madison.
Of the nine, Swindle, Kennedy, Duckett, Lane and Horton are Alabama natives. The others relocated to Alabama to be more centrally located for fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series. In fact, Remitz, a Classic rookie who qualified from the Bassmaster Northern Tour, moved to Alabama just three weeks ago.
The Alabama-born Classic pros would seemingly have an advantage over the transplants. That is because the 12,000-acre Lay Lake is part of the Coosa River and home to a huge population of spotted bass that the native anglers grew up fishing for.
Kennedy is the exception. "I love Lay Lake, but I've only been there two or three times in the spring," he said. "It's full of big spotted bass and there's some pretty heavy largemouth in there, too."
Swindle is excited about fishing the Classic in February as this edition marks the second Classic that will be held in late winter/early spring.
"Lay Lake is one of the best February lakes we have. I mean 20-pound limits can be caught pretty easy if you get on the right deal but you are going to need some skills to catch them.
"The weather in February also makes this tournament intriguing because you could be wearing cold-weather clothes one day and then the next day you could be wearing a short-sleeved shirt."
Many consider Lane and Duckett pre-Classic favorites because of their extensive experience and tournament success on Lay Lake, but another angler worth watching is Martens.
After relocating from his native California, Martens has finished second in three Classics. Martens scored one of those second-place Classic finishes on Lay in 2002.
In that Classic, Martens deviated from the rest of the field by fishing a hair jig for schooling spots in shallow water. And although that was a summertime tournament, that lure could work well on spotted bass in deeper water in Classic XXXVII.
"It used to be a secret, but I guess it's out now," said Martens of the hair jig. "In California the hair jig is a dependable lure when all else fails and it could come into play at this Classic."
If Martens were to win his first Classic, he would be the first Alabama angler to win the Classic since 1985 when Phenix City's Jack Chancellor was victorious on the Arkansas River.