Classic fans: On the road again

TULSA, Okla. — Bassmaster fans are known to travel, and they arrived from all over the country to see the 43rd Bassmaster Classic at Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.

Some come to cheer for their favorite anglers. Some come to get a crash, post-graduate course in fishing particular lakes and patterns for this time of year, and some just come for the show.

Keith Edwards of Cole, N.J., came to the Classic as a birthday gift from his wife. She bought him two plane tickets to Tulsa, so he invited his good friend Don Leeper.

Bass fans tend to think of bass fishing as a Southern sport, but it’s big in the Northeast, too. Edwards said he’s been a bass fisherman since he was a child at lakes Hopatcong and Greenwood, and also on the Hudson River. On special occasions, he likes to go to Lake Champlain.

“Champlain is a little taste of heaven on earth,” Edwards said.

As an amateur tournament angler, Edwards said the intensity of competing is irresistible on the local level. Attending the Classic allows him to experience that intensity at the highest level.

“It’s the adrenaline rush,” Edwards said. “I’m a tournament fisherman myself, so I know how good it feels to go out there and do well even on the amateur level. I can only imagine what it feels like for these guys that are good enough to make a living at it.”

Edwards said his favorite pros are Mike Iaconelli, of course, and Kevin VanDam. The best part of the Classic, he added, is actually seeing the pros in person.

“I couldn’t believe it. When I first walked in the door at the Expo, I ran into Randall Tharp. And then Denny Brauer. I see all these big-name pros. I didn’t expect that.”

What was Edwards’s first impression seeing these guys?

“They’re not as big as they look on TV,” Edwards said.

Marshall Brown of Smithville, Mo., talks fishing line with Ted Thibault of Tuf-Line. Brown came to Tulsa to experience the grandeur of the Bassmaster Classic.Philip Pago of Baton Rouge, La., actually took a job in Oklahoma so he could attend the Classic.

“I work for Schneider Electrical, and they had a job going on in Pryor, Okla.,” Pago said. “When I found out it was the weekend of the Bassmaster Classic, I accepted the job, of course. We finished up Friday, so we stayed the weekend to come and see all the activities here.”

Pago said he loves bass fishing in general, but he was looking forward to seeing Kevin VanDam, who smoked the bass at Lake Catouatchie in the 2011 Classic.

“I fish Catouatchie, too,” Pago said. “I was there the week before he was there and the week after he was there.”

Did Pago catch 28 pounds, like VanDam did?

“Not even close, but I did catch fish,” he said.

Also attending the show was the entire bass team from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. They won the 2008 College National Championship. Trent Gephardt, now graduated, was on that team, and he said he’s come to the Classic to help pave his way into the pros.

“This is the Super Bowl of bass fishing,” Gephardt said. “Anything that has to do with fishing is here. We came for the contacts, more than anything else.”

Jeremy Hall of Little Rock has been on the UALR team for three years. He said he came for inspiration.

“This is the top tier of the sport,” Hall said. “Being around the pros and seeing them live the dream fuels the fire to make us all work harder.”