Three anglers from the grassroots level of bass fishing will realize their dream Saturday.
That’s when the top anglers in the 2018 Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors will receive berths to the 2019 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.
“We’re going to have an exciting week here on Lake Pickwick,” B.A.S.S. Nation director Jon Stewart said Monday as he received Toyota trucks for the weigh-ins and oversaw the crew creating the service yard in Florence, Ala., for the 127 competitors. “They are all here for those three Bassmaster Classic berths.”
When the dust settles Saturday, the long process of qualifying that began in battles just to make their state team then advance through regionals, will culminate in a super thrill for those three fortunate anglers. In the end, they will have beaten some really long odds to reach the Classic.
“It’s actually about a two-year process,” Stewart said. “There are thousands of anglers at the club level who try to work their way up to make the state team, then advance at regionals to get here.”
There are 47 states, each with varying numbers of club members, that send 10 boaters and 10 nonboaters to the regionals. From there, only one boater and one non-boater from each state makes it to the Nation Championship. There are also anglers from 10 countries in the championship – Australia, Canada, Japan, Spain, Mexico, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Among the best stories is the champion from the Paralyzed Veterans of America. That man, 80-year-old Tulsa native Ken Carter, is vying to become the oldest to ever compete in a Classic. See Alan McGuckin’s story.
Stewart said there are a number of other interesting storylines among the 127 anglers, including Brock Bila, a high school senior. Bila won’t be the youngest ever to fish a Nation championship – that honor belongs to Mexico’s Juan Ro Chagollan. He was 16 when he competed in Russellville, Ark., in 2013 as a nonboater, and he is back this year as a boater.
There are several Carhartt College Series anglers in this event, namely Alabama’s Tim Ward, who fished at the University of Auburn, and Maryland’s Michael Duarte, who competed for Community College of Baltimore County.
There are two sets of father-son duos. Virginia’s Jeff Lugar, who competed in the 2014 and 2015 Classics, seeks a return to the championship while his son, Travis, competes as a nonboater. They are joined by Wisconsin’s Harry Marsh III on the boater side and his father, Harry Marsh II.
Of course, defending Nation champ and Elite Series angler Caleb Sumrall is back to pursue another Classic berth, as is Texan Albert Collins, who like Lugar is vying for his third Classic. Collins won the Nation Championship in 2015 after going as 2012 Weekend Series champion.
There are two women in the nonboater field, Stacy Jefferson Proctor of South Carolina and Angelo Mayo of North Carolina. Proctor is the sister-in-law of 2016 Classic qualifier John Proctor of Conway, S.C. The first woman to make the state team, Jefferson Proctor only took up fishing a couple years ago after marrying Charles Proctor.
It’s a longshot, but one of those two could be the first woman to earn a Classic bid while fishing against men. Kim Bain-Moore and Pam Martin-Wells are the two women who have competed in Classics, finishing 47th in 2010 and 22nd in 2011, respectively, after receiving the automatic bids for winning the now-defunct Women’s Bassmaster Tour Angler of the Year titles. (See other Ladies’ firsts.)
But how, pray tell, can a nonboater get in the Classic? Stewart explains.
“We will fish two full field days,” he said. “On Friday afternoon, we will crown a non-boater champion and cut the field for Saturday to the top 10 boaters, plus the non-boater champion gives us 11. And any other region’s boaters who are outside the top 10 can make our field rise from 11 to 16.”
Ryan Lavigne of Gonzales, La., actually secured a Classic spot by blowing away the field from the nonboater side in 2016. He topped the nonboaters then parlayed that on Lake Conroe by beating all the boaters by 16-1/2 pounds.
“It’s a very lucrative tournament,” Stewart said. “We give a boat to the non-boater champion. We give a boat to each of the top three guys who are going to the Classic.”
The top three receive what’s called a “B.A.S.S. Nation’s Best” prize package, which gives the winner an Elite Series berth and $16,000 credit to entry fees, paid entry to any Bass Pro Shops Opens division and the use of a tournament ready boat for a year. Second and third earn Opens entry and use of a boat.
But Saturday doesn't complete the 2019 Classic field. That’s reserved for next month’s Bassmaster Team Championship, when the 52nd and final spot to fish next March 15-17 out of Knoxville, Tenn., will be awarded.
What’s in a name?
Reading the list of those competing this week, there are several names that stand out … as unusual.
First thing I want our reporter in Florence to check out is how or why a competitor from Zimbabwe got his first name. Yes, Stratos Orphanides might just be of Greek heritage, or maybe his parents had an infinity for a certain boat brand. Inquiring minds want to know.
The Daily Limit is familiar with seeing foreign names, like Zimbabwean Gerry Jooste, who made five Classics from 1994 to 2013, though they're harder to pronounce. It is interesting to see names from around the world after so many Marks, Jims, Bobs and … ugh, Mikes.
South Africa fields two to the all-name team in Justy Varkevisser (that's fun to say ... try it fast or with an accent) and Neels Beneke.
Let’s head to Europe for some stereotypical names, like Sebastien Depeyris of France, Fernando Henriques and Luis Mendes of Portugal and Jacopo Gallelli and Michele Fanfani of Italy. Some of these sound like made-up movie names for their country, and I’m just really looking forward to Jon Stewart trying to pronounce them.
Head west to find Montana’s Quincy Grupenhoff on the all-name team, as well as Wyoming’s Tucker Cappella (should he be fishing for Italy?). Josh Crededio receives honorable mention in the how-do-you-pronounce-that category. (My last name, which rhymes with Yukon, was mispronounced by a high school gym teacher for three years straight, and correcting him every day during roll only secured his check mark by my name.)
This name and derivatives must have been popular many moons ago in Nebraska as grey-haired anglers Doyle Helmink and Dolyn Brown might attest. Oh, and can I buy a vowel for Hillbilly Bassmasters angler Mike Szczechowski of Missouri. I’m sure it’s pronounced something like the Duke basketball coach. Or maybe not. We’ll find out.
Good luck, Mr. Stewart.
Good luck, anglers.