Classic Week finally arrives

CELEBRATION, Fla. — The contenders in the 36th edition of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic recently arrived in the host city of Kissimmee, signaling the beginning of Classic Week and the most anticipated fishing tournament of the year.

Most of the 51-angler field has known for more than six months that their ticket had been punched for this Classic on Lake Tohopekaliga — the first held here since the '70s. Since then, the Classic has undoubtedly dominated them, as they counted down the days until fishing's Big Show arrived in Central Florida.

The pros were on the Classic waters for three days last week to lay the strategic foundation for the world-championship event. Some were in nearby Leesburg this weekend to fish with young anglers in the Junior Bassmaster World Championship on the Harris Chain of Lakes.

"It's nice to finally get here and get Classic Week started," said Preston Clark, one of two Floridians in Classic XXXVI. "I think we're in for an outstanding Classic where records might fall. It's going to be a great week for both the anglers and the fans."

Alabama pro Gerald Swindle — 25th on the Bassmaster Elite Series Power Index — agreed. "This is what it's all about. This is what we work for all year long."

The Classic is a week-long celebration of the sport of bass fishing that began this weekend with the Junior Bassmaster World Championship and Bassmaster Family Fest in Leesburg. From here, the action centers on Kissimmee and the Orange County Convention Center, where anglers will weigh-in and meet fans at the Classic ESPN Outdoors Expo presented by Under Armour.

Everyone loves a parade

Spectators of the Junior Bassmaster World Championship in Leesburg, Fla., earlier this week saw Greg Hackney — Mardi Gras style.

BASS sponsored a Triton boat and Toyota Tundra in the city of Leesburg's 9th annual Mardi Gras Main Street Parade on Saturday night and Hackney - a 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Elite angler and Classic competitor - was on hand to throw festive fish beads to the crowd.

Earlier in the day, Hackney was a mentor and boat driver for Ross Burns of South Carolina, who competed in the Bassmaster Junior World Championship. Nick Kelly of Tennessee and Payden Hibdon of Missouri won the event. Hackney also made a special appearance before the parade at the Leesburg Hardee's and signed autographs for fans.

Fun Facts

The 51-angler field of bass fishing's most premier event includes nine of the top 10 anglers in the Bassmaster Elite Series Power Index and 15 of the top 20. The Power Index is a new ranking system for the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series and lists an angler by his average weight caught during his last 12 qualifying tournaments in the last two years.

The Classic field includes a total of 35 Elite Series anglers, representing nearly 70 percent of the field.

On Display

The Bassmaster Classic is giving fish fans the chance to see the latest and greatest products in the outdoors industry, as the 51 Classic competitors will fish Toho from Triton boats, each equipped with Mercury outboards, Lowrance electronics and Motorguide trolling motors. The boats will be towed to the Orange County Convention Center for weigh-in by Toyota trucks.

The products include:

Triton Boats: The Bassmaster Classic pros will be skirting around Lake Tohopekaliga in style, comfort and efficiency. The Triton Tr-21X is the official Classic boat. It is the ultimate tournament boat with superior fishability. But its extreme performance truly sets this boat apart from the competition.

Mercury Outboards: On the eve of the Bassmaster Classic, Mercury Marine received a pair of highly coveted customer satisfaction awards from J.D. Power and Associates for its direct-fuel-injected and sterndrive engines. One of those award-winning technologies will be on the back of the Classic boats.

Mercury OptiMax: The Mercury OptiMax — the marine industry's leading direct-fuel-injected two-stroke outboard — was recently recognized by J.D. as the highest in customer satisfaction with two-stroke outboard engines. And the OptiMax 225 Pro XS will power the Tritons around the weedy and shallow Classic waters. The OptiMax is lighter than comparably sized four-strokes, impressively fuel efficient, better suited for smaller and narrow beam boats, and offers great handling at all speeds. Mercury bills it as "tournament-tested technology for a Saturday morning budget."

Toyota Trucks: Get a load of the stylish new 2006 Toyota Tundra Doublecabs will tow the Bassmaster Classic boats through the weigh-in at the Orange County Convention Center. The full-size Tundra features an available 271-hp 4.7-liter i-FORCE V8 with VVT-I, 6,800 pounds of towing capacity and loads of cargo space. There's even seating for up to six. It comes with a legendary durability for years of encore performances.

Lowrance Electronics: When it comes to locating the hiding places of bass in the Classic waters, the contenders will have a major advantage with the Lowrance LMS-332C combination depthfinder and GPS navigational unit on the front of the boat and a Lowrance 25C at the console. The LMS-332C features a sunlight-viewable 480x480 high-resolution, 256-color display that takes the mystery out of interpreting the underwater world of the bass. And its GPS capability will enable the pros to return to a hot spot time after time.

MotorGuide trolling motors Bassmaster Classic anglers will use the MotorGuide Tour Edition TR 109-P with 36-volt digital power providing 109 pounds of thrust. Also included is a transducer with added adapter to work in conjunction with the Lowrance navigational unit. The stainless steel shafts and components, metal head and pedal as well as the soft-start feature makes this the toughest trolling motor available. Also featured on the Classic trolling motor is the new Hydrilla Hacker, a three-blade prop with a deep hub and wide-curving blades.

Berkley: The folks at Berkley have broken the mold of other soft-plastic lure makers by creating a series of lures specifically for their pros to use in Classic XXXVI on Lake Toho. They include Nuclear Nelly (a fat, compact creature bait designed by 2003 Classic champion Michael Iaconelli), Punch Craw (a solid tube-like body with pinchers) and Shaky Worm (designed to be fished on a jighead).

The 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic will be hosted by the Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Central Florida Sports Commission.