2001 Bassmaster Classic: Déjà vu

NEW ORLEANS — "There were goose bumps running up and down my spine when I heard people talking about it would take 10 pounds or so to win the tournament because I felt like I could do that."

Davy Hite not only could do that, he did. After landing 15 bass at 55 pounds, 10 ounces, during the 1999 BASS Masters Classic near New Orleans, the goose bumps turned to chills. The Propserity, S.C., angler lived out a childhood dream and was named Classic champion before more 40,000 fans at the Louisiana Superdome.

"It had been my goal in fishing," Hite said. "Since I was about 12 or 13 years old, it was one of my dreams. I've dreamed of being a professional fisherman since that time. I started fishing in professional tournaments at 12 years old, and I've dreamed of winning the BASS Masters Classic ever since then."

With air temperatures pushing the century mark each day and steamy water temperatures above 90 degrees, few bass experts believed the Classic's weight record would fall in the vast Louisiana Delta … except Hite, that is.

After doing his homework, Hite, the 1997 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year, had located some good fish in canals in the Bayou Beouf area during the Classic's prefishing period. In fact, they were some very good fish.

"I kept it quiet, but I thought that I could kind of have the weight that I did if I could catch five fish a day," he recalled. "In the prefish, I caught some good fish, but not a good number of fish. If I could catch five, I thought I would have a good stringer."

1999 Classic runner-up Denny Brauer, who weighed in 15 bass at 45 pounds, 11 ounces, winces when he thinks about Hite's honey hole. If not for that hot spot, Brauer might have defended his 1998 Classic crown and joined Rick Clunn as the event's only back-to-back winner.

"Yeah, I wish that guy (a local) had never told him (Hite) about those fish," Brauer quipped. "That really surprised me because most of us kind of thought that if you caught 15 pounds a day, you would not only win the tournament, you might walk off with it. I caught 15 pounds a day and got beat by 10 pounds. That just goes to show that you never know."

Neither angler knew who would win the Classic after the first day of competition, but Hite got off to a great start.

Despite finding dying fish in his chosen area, Hite, who did not qualify for this year's Classic, had his location to himself en route to boating five bass weighing 16 pounds, 9 ounces. That was good enough for third place in trailing first-round leader Jack Wade of Knoxville, Tenn., who had five bass weighing 16 pounds, 13 ounces.

"In Classics in the past that I've fished, we've fished small reservoirs. And in a three-day event, you can end up sharing fish with others and you can have people beat you to spots," said Hite, the 1996 Classic runner-up. "It can happen in the Delta, but it's a lot less likely because of the amount of water that you've got to fish."

On Day Two of the 1999 Classic, Hite again had his favored spot and he wowwed the weigh-in crowd with a stunning catch of 19 pounds, 3 ounces for a two-day total of 35 pounds, 12 ounces. That gave him the second-round lead over Bismarck, Ark., angler Ron Shuffield, who had five bass at 30 pounds.

On the final day, Hite worked his junebug Gambler Bacon Rind to perfection on his way to a 15-fish day. When culled to a five bass limit, the South Carolina pro weighed in 19 pounds, 14 ounces, giving him a runaway win over Brauer.

When Hite was crowned the 1999 Classic champ in the Superdome, his big win in the Delta seemed almost too easy.

But, in the end, it wasn't anything easy that put Hite's name on the Classic trophy, according to eighth-place finisher Kevin VanDam. It was his amazing consistency.

"That's what Davy did; he caught three good strings of bass. In fact, he got better each day. It's hard to put together three good strings here, and really, in any Classic anywhere," VanDam said.

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