NEW ORLEANS — Dean Rojas said what most every other competitor might have been thinking. It was Classic Night, and the 50 anglers gathered for an evening at the famous House of Blues.
As reigning champion, Kevin VanDam was asked to give a greeting. KVD, who was ill enough that he actually laid on his boat deck for two hours of Wednesday's final practice, toughed it out.
As he walked off stage to a round of applause, Rojas razzed bass fishing's best. "You want some oysters," he joked, hitting a sore spot of several anglers dealing with digestive tract issues. KVD countered that he won't go down so easily. The three-time Classic champ, who also won the past two Bassmaster Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year titles, said a day of rest Thursday and he should be fine for Friday's first day of fishing.
He spoke heartily, saying he sees a renewed interest in B.A.S.S. that has been brought on by the passion of the three new owners, Jerry McKinnis, Don Logan and Jim Copeland. "We're all exciting about what's to come in the future," KVD said. "They're passionate about fishing and I think great things are going to happen.
Not only do you see that renewed enthusiasm in them, but I see it in the anglers, I see it in the sponsors, just like Plano stepping up to sponsor this tonight." The owners stood together and greeted each angler and their families as they entered the restaurant where music greats have played. Elite Series angler and budding singer Casey Ashley entertained the crowd before emcee Tommy Sanders introduced each owner.
They tried to top each other as they shared entertaining stories while adding a pledge to make B.A.S.S. better for the anglers, fans, sponsors and everyone else involved. McKinnis related his plan to reward those donning B.A.S.S. stickers on their cars, and how his first attempt to pull over a driver and hand him a bag of crankbaits almost went disastrously awry.
Logan displayed his passion for bass fishing. Shunning a variety of New Year's Eve parties, he said he and his wife went out to a lake in Auburn, Ala., so he could attempt to "catch the first bass of the new millennium. I wouldn't think anybody else was crazy enough to go out on New Year's Eve." Though cold and the fish not biting, he stayed long enough to try it for two time zones, but had to settle for one at first daylight, needing less than five casts. Copeland sounded like he hired a writer, firing off several shots, including one at McKinnis.
"Jerry said we would each talk about two minutes, so if I'm ever given 24 hours to live, I want to borrow his watch," he said. Also introduced to the audience was new Bassmaster emcee Dave Mercer, who said he is living his dream of hosting the Bassmaster Classic. He also spoke of the owners' dedication to bass fishing.
"All these businessmen are very successful, and they're here at B.A.S.S. because of their love for the sport," Mercer said. "I think whenever somebody loves something and is passionate about it, they're going to put everything in the right direction."