Best pros await season's final Major

CELEBRATION, Fla. — The third and final Major in 2006 — the Bassmaster Legends — returns to a familiar scene rich in BASS history on Aug. 24-27 when Little Rock and the Arkansas River host the prestigious tournament.

 The Arkansas River has hosted two CITGO Bassmaster Classics, served as the scene of Rick Clunn's historic, record-setting victory in 1984 and provided an unforgettable weigh-in involving then-Gov. Bill Clinton and then-Vice President George Bush Sr.Now comes the Bassmaster Legends, which honors BASS founder Ray Scott and pays $250,000 to the winner from a total prize purse of $601,000. The event pits the 55 most consistent pros over the past three seasons in a unique format. It also pays the winner the largest check in BASS history outside of the coveted Classic.

 The tournament features two qualifying rounds that send the top 12 anglers into Day 3, when they rotate through a six-hole course on the water that was previously off-limits for fishing. The top six will do battle in the final round on the same course.Six Arkansas pros have qualified for the Major — Mike McClelland, Scott Rook, Mike Wurm, Kevin Short, Stephen Browning and Jimmy Mize — and they are considered among the pre-tournament favorites.

 "This time of year, typically the river is low and there's not a lot of current," three-time CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam said. "It can be pretty tough and that's going to favor the local guys like Mike Wurm, Mike McClelland and Scott Rook."Despite being an Elite Series tournament winner and having the title to the 1996 Bassmaster Arkansas Invitational on the Arkansas River — which was the last time BASS visited — McClelland insisted he shouldn't be considered a favorite."It's going to be nice being back in my home state, but I've only fished the pool that we're going to fish one time, and that was for about two days," he said "I went back home after (the two Elite Series tournaments in) New York and actually spent about four hours running around and looking over that pool."

 August is typically difficult on the Arkansas River because rainfall is minimal and the current is practically non-existent. That makes fishing especially challenging. "Unless a big rain comes in from somewhere, it's going to be a tough derby," McClelland continued. "It's not going to be as good as the river actually is. Without any flow, it's going to make for four days of tough fishing."Some pros will target the artificial current created by the opening and closing of the locks on the river. Others, however, will likely avoid that crowd and seek out potential hot spots in the backwater areas. The bass in that shallow habitat are not as impacted by the current as the main-river fish and are more likely to react to a well-placed lure .But with water temperatures in the high 80s and 90s, bass have a tendency to be sluggish and not actively chase a lure."I think you're going to see a lot of fish caught on spinnerbaits and crankbaits — the whole realm of dingy water-type baits," McClelland said. "With the field of anglers we have, there will be some guys who catch them drop-shotting and throwing a Shaky head — things that aren't characteristic to the river."Anytime you bring this group of guys to a place they aren't familiar with, they're going to uncover new methods of catching bass."McClelland predicts it will take roughly 20 pounds per day to make the 12-angler semifinal field. The final two rounds will take place on a stretch of the river from Burn's Park downriver to the 440 Bridge, which is off-limits to the competitors during the first two days of fishing."That could make for a little better fishing because most tournaments are held in that area," he added. "So there are a lot of fish that have been released in that area. That could actually kick things up a little bit for the final two days."Regardless of the fishing, McClelland is a big fan of the Majors format."I expect a big crowd," he said. "I think Arkansas will turn out in big numbers."On Saturday of the Major, the excitement is doubled as the Mercury Marine Women's Bassmaster Tour presented by Triton Boats shares the stage for its final-round weigh-in of its fourth tournament of the season.The top six female pros from the WBT tournament on nearby Lake Dardanelle will cross the stage at the Statehouse Convention Center to weigh-in their final-round catch and decide the champion.

 Like the Bassmaster Classic, the Majors also include an indoor ESPN Outdoors Expo, which will be held at the Statehouse Convention Center on Saturday and Sunday beginning at 10 a.m. CT.The Bassmaster Legends daily weigh-ins, which are free to attend, will begin at 3:30 p.m. CT Thursday through Sunday at the Statehouse Convention Center in Markham and Main, #1 Statehouse Plaza, in Little Rock. Morning launches will leave from North River Landing beginning at 6:50 a.m. CT.

 Fishing fans can catch the action from the Bassmaster Legends on the CITGO Bassmasters on Saturday, Sept. 2, at 10 a.m. ET on ESPN2.