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 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