Competition for the Classic

Amateur anglers compete for Bassmaster Classic berths in BASS Federation Nation Championship

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Amateur Anglers Compete For Bassmaster Classic Berths in BASS Federation Nation Championship

Florida's Lake Tohopekaliga promises to be a puzzle for many of the 55 amateur anglers in the Nov. 8-10 BASS Federation Nation Championship out of Kissimmee, Fla.

Winners in each of the event's six competition divisions will earn berths in the 2008 Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 22-24 on South Carolina's Lake Hartwell, where the six amateurs will go head-to-head with pros for bass fishing's most prestigious trophy and $500,000.

The overall champion of the event, the angler who posts the heaviest three-day weight, also will take home a $50,000 Triton/Mercury boat package and an invitation to join the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series, the top level of competitive bass fishing.

Daily launches will be at 6 a.m. ET, Nov. 8-10, at Kissimmee Lakefront Park. Weigh-ins will also be held at the park beginning at 3 p.m. ET. All tournament events are free and open to the public.

Live, streaming video of each day's weigh-in will be provided by www.ESPNOutdoors.com starting at 3 p.m. ET. TV coverage will air at 9 a.m. ET, Feb. 16, 2008, on ESPN2.

Fifty-three anglers from the field of 55 qualified for the Toho event through BASS Federation Nation divisional tournaments, with representatives from 47 states as well as Canada, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Japan and Italy.

The other two qualifiers are Kurt Glass from Grovetown, Ga. — who earned his entry when he was crowned the Paralyzed Veterans of America Angler of the Year — and defending champion Royce Dennington of Barnsdall, Okla., a 39-year-old science teacher.

"A Florida lake will be a new experience for me," said Dennington, who competed outside Oklahoma for the first time when he took his Federation Nation Championship title last year on Alabama's Lake Neely Henry. "As soon as the site was announced (Sept. 24) it was off limits, so I didn't have a chance to practice there. But I know the grass and shallow water of Toho will be a big change for me.

One contender who has an edge is Florida qualifier, J. Nobel Willits, 31, of Altamonte Springs, which is about an hour from Toho. He said he has fished the lake for the past eight years but hasn't been there since May.

"I feel I have somewhat of a home-field advantage," said Willits, an investigator for the Florida Department of Transportation. "If you have never been there it can be intimidating, especially if you're not used to fishing grass — it's everywhere — but if you are skilled in grass, you have a chance. It's a lake full of big fish, so anyone could stumble on them."

Willits said the tournament likely will be won on a wide range of patterns that might include working shallow grass and deeper-water hydrilla by flipping, Carolina-rigging or throwing topwaters. The Florida angler has his sights set on one of the coveted Classic berths.

"I'm sure once I'd get there, a little nerves will creep in, but I think it would be an enjoyable experience as an amateur," Willits said.

Dennington's Federation Nation Championship win got him into the 2007 Classic, in which he posted a 21st-place finish.

"It's a great experience," said Dennington of his championship title. "I hope I can repeat but with this field, it will be a tough task."

 

BASS Federation Nation Championship Contenders

 

Returning champion

 

Royce Dennington, Oklahoma

 

PVA Angler of the Year

 

Don Jenkins, Pennsylvania

 

Eastern Division

 

Carl S. Alexander Jr., Vermont

 

Sheron K. Brown, Massachusetts

 

Gary Clawson, New Hampshire

 

Christopher T. Loftus, New York

 

Frank Ramsay, Ontario, Canada

 

Dale Simmons, Maine

 

Michael Wolfenden, Rhode Island

 

Southern Division

 

Kyle Christopher, Kentucky

 

Mike Keel, Alabama

 

Fred O'Quinn, South Carolina

 

Mark Pierce, Georgia

 

Patrick Tierney, North Carolina

 

Richard Watson, South Africa

 

J. Nobel Willits, Florida

 

Mid-Atlantic Division

 

Darin E. Doll, Pennsylvania

 

Jeff Freeman, Virginia

 

Moosa Ismail, Zimbabwe

 

David McKinney, West Virginia

 

Daniel Rodriguez, Maryland

 

Shelton C. Walters Jr., Delaware

 

Eric "Woody" Woodward, New Jersey

 

Central Division

 

Scott Hamel, Kansas

 

Leslie Kennedy, Texas

 

Pat Klausen, Nebraska

 

Jamie Laiche, Louisiana

 

Pablo Leo, Mexico

 

Shane Long, Missouri

 

Hollis Polk, Mississippi

 

Lee Sanders, Oklahoma

 

Doug Thompson, Arkansas

 

Western Division

 

Mike Baskett, Oregon

 

Jeff Guerrette, Arizona

 

John Mace, Washington

 

Jesse Milicevic, Nevada

 

Katunori Mitsuhashi, Japan

 

Sidney Reeves, Wyoming

 

Ben Schilling, Montana

 

Brent Shores, Idaho

 

Mark "Chief" Torrez, California

 

Larry Triplett, Colorado

 

Franco Vallejos, New Mexico

 

Kurt Walters, Utah

 

Northern Division

 

Larry Coleman, Illinois

 

Ron Fabiszak, Indiana

 

Don Fowler, Michigan

 

Brent Haimes, Minnesota

 

Nicola Panareo, Italy

 

Justin Rowse, South Dakota

 

Steve Smith, Ohio

 

Jason Stangel, Wisconsin

 

James Sullivan, Iowa

advertisement

advertisement