‘This is the pinnacle’

SHREVEPORT, La. – The Bassmaster Classic has been called the “Super Bowl of bass fishing.” But the sport’s most dominant angler says it’s even more than that.

“It’s the Super Bowl. It’s Game 7 of the World Series and NHL Finals. It’s the Daytona 500,” said four-time Classic champion Kevin VanDam. “If you’re a competitive bass fisherman, this is the pinnacle. Every bass fisherman who’s ever fished a tournament has dreamed of fishing in the Bassmaster Classic. It’s everything.”

The 42nd Bassmaster Classic launches Friday morning on the Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La. Some 49 anglers from across the U.S. will compete three days for professional bass fishing’s most prestigious title and a $500,000 payday.

Although no angler will refuse the winner’s check, there’s unanimous accord that the Classic is about much more than money.

“It truly changes your life,” said Mike Iaconelli, the 2003 Classic champion. “It takes you to a whole new place in fishing. You’re suddenly in a class that very few people are in.”

Less than three dozen anglers have hoisted the Classic trophy since the event’s inception in 1971. Perhaps that’s why Greg Hackney, the only home-state fisherman in this year’s Classic field, said the Classic is the end-all, be-all of professional bass fishing.

“It’s the holy grail of bass fishing,” Hackney said. “Nothing else compares to it. I’m as jacked up about this one as the first one I fished. This is what it’s all about. I wouldn’t do this (fish professionally) if there wasn’t a Bassmaster Classic.”

While the Classic has been reported to be worth as much as $1 million in sponsor endorsements for the winning angler, Iaconelli said there may be a more immediate effect on an angler’s compensation.

“I think a newer angle is that it’s become the biggest event of the year as far as showcasing products,” Iaconelli said. “The only thing we had to showcase products on this level before was ICAST (International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades, the world’s largest fishing tradeshow). The Classic has become the public’s version of ICAST. It’s very important from a branding perspective.”

With all its importance, it’s no wonder Classic competitors are fretting about a weather forecast that calls for a significant temperature drop for the tournament’s opening day. Classic anglers found a muddy and cool Red River when they hit the water Feb. 17-19 for three unofficial practice days. But warmer weather this week has pushed up water temperatures, which figures to increase bass activity just in time for the Classic.

But even though anglers found improved fishing conditions during Wednesday’s official practice day, a cold front was predicted to move through northwestern Louisiana Thursday night or Friday morning, dropping temperatures below 40 degrees for Friday morning’s take-off. The predicted high temperature Friday is around 60 degrees, nearly 20 degrees cooler than Thursday’s peak temperature.

That likely will mean major changes on the water.

“The weather’s changing, and that changes the fish and the bite,” VanDam said. “It’ll throw some people for a loop. I guarantee you everybody here is worried about the changing weather, thinking about how it’s going to affect the fishing. But at the same time, we’re extremely happy it’s been 80 degrees for two days.”

VanDam will be looking to win his record fifth Classic. He won his fourth title last year on the Mississippi River Delta outside of New Orleans to tie legendary bass pro Rick Clunn for all-time Classic victories. The 2011 Classic was also VanDam’s second consecutive Classic victory, another feat accomplished by only VanDam and Clunn.

“I want to win this one as much as the first one,” VanDam said. “There is no mountaintop. You’re always climbing.”

Anglers will look to notch their name in the bass fishing history books beginning at 7 a.m. Central Friday. Daily weigh-ins will be held at 4:30 p.m. Central today through Sunday. Live coverage may be seen at Bassmaster.com, including live streaming video of each day’s weigh-in. Television coverage will begin March 3 on ESPN 2.

Follow the first day of the event as it progresses via the Live Blog, which features reporters and photographers giving you updates from the water. A new feature this year is a live stream from the War Room, which will allow viewers to see how the live coverage and Bassmaster TV shows are produced.

Also look for the popular BassTrakk feed to go live once the angler hit the water. Marshals in the anglers’ boat input their fish catches into a database to give a live, but unofficial, view of how each angler is faring. 

For the real deal, check out the Realtime Leaderboard once the weigh-ins get under way. And make sure you don’t miss the live stream of the weigh-ins, which should prove to be the most exciting hours of the 42nd Bassmaster Classic.

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