CELEBRATION, Fla. — Although the bulk of the field in the upcoming 37th annual Bassmaster Classic comes out of the Bassmaster Elite Series ranks, there is a group of six talented, experienced Bassmaster Tour pros who are determined to show off their skills and make a run at the most important title in competitive fishing.
The top three pros from the Bassmaster Northern and Southern Tours earned a ticket to the Classic, and all paid their dues qualifying through the competitive Tour level.
Texans James Niggemeyer and Derek Remitz, Floridian James Charlesworth, Tennessee's Sam Lashlee, Georgia's Tom Hamlin and Alabama's Boyd Duckett will all descend on Alabama's Lay Lake on Feb. 23-25 for the 2007 Bassmaster Classic and the $500,000 grand prize.
Perhaps the hottest of the six is Niggemeyer. The 35-year-old won a Tour event on Santee Cooper Reservoir in April and won the points title on the Southern circuit.
"I am so excited," Niggemeyer said. "I'm trying to calm the nerves a little bit and not be too excited. The Classic is an accomplishment that I have been dreaming of for such a long time. To finally see it happen is just incredible."
It was five years ago that Bassmaster Elite Series pro Dean Rojas convinced Niggemeyer to move to the shores of Lake Fork to begin guiding and competing on the BASS circuits.
"Moving to Texas was a career move for me," he said. "It's been a good career move."
Charlesworth, 33, was a medical salesman before becoming a full-time pro two years ago. In 2006, he fished both the Southern and Northern Tours en route to earning his first Classic appearance by finishing third on the southern circuit.
"I think I would have an advantage in my first Classic, not having spectators follow me around," Charlesworth said about his lack of experience.
Hamlin is the lone Tour contender that has experienced the Classic in the past. The Lizella, Ga., angler finished 25th in the 2003 Classic and returns thanks to a second-place showing in the Southern Tour standings.
Duckett, 46, is nearly as experienced as Hamlin, but has never qualified for the Classic. A resident of Demopolis, Ala., Duckett's knowledge of Lay Lake makes him one of the pre-Classic favorites and possibly the Tour competitor with the best shot at winning the prestigious championship.
Lashlee is another experienced angler at 44 years old, but has never fished in a Classic. Much like Charlesworth, the Tennessee angler feels that his lack of experience will play to his advantage in bass fishing's most major event.
At the other end of the spectrum is the 24-year-old Remitz. Remitz is the youngest angler in the Classic field and like Niggemeyer, he made a big move for his career — relocating from Minnesota to Texas to further his fishing education. And in preparation for his rookie season on the Bassmaster Elite Series, he recently moved to Madison, Ala.
Considering his youth, is he intimidated by his older, more experienced brethren?
"I suppose to a point, just because they're all my idols that I grew up reading about and watching," said Remitz, who finished in first-place in the Northern Tour points race. "I'm just going to keep fishing the way I fished all this year. I'm going out there and not paying too much attention to what's going on around me."
The final seven competitors will be determined after the completion of the BASS Federation Nation National Championship (Jan. 19) and the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series Championship (Jan. 27). The Classic will receive over 11 hours of coverage on ESPN2 and will award nearly $1.2 million to the 50-angler field.