Daniel to fish Elite in style

CELEBRATION, Fla. — After years of roughing it on the tournament trail, professional bass angler Steve Daniel decided to take matters into his own hands.

 When the new CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series holds its inaugural event March 9-12 at Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas, Daniel will debut a new, state-of-the-art travel system that he spent the better part of the last two years building. Daniel and a group of friends turned a former 52-seat passenger bus into a luxurious traveling home that Daniel and his wife, Debbie, will live in as he fishes the 11 Elite Series events this year.

 "I've been fishing BASS for 20 years, and my wife's been following me all over the place," said Daniel, 51, of Clewiston, Fla. "This is for her. It's something she deserves."

 Daniel, who is ranked 60th on Bassmaster Elite Series Power Index, catching an average of 13 pounds, 8 ounces per tournament, said he patterned the remodeled bus after those used by traveling music stars, but took the design even further. "Those folks just ride in the bus from place to place, then stay in a hotel," he said. "We'll be living in this, so we gutted that bus and built a home inside of it."

 And the effort already has paid off. When stopped at a gas station on a recent trip, another patron asked Daniel's wife if someone famous was on the bus. The angler was delighted to hear his wife respond, "It's mine, and I don't even sing!"

 "Traveling will be a lot better this year," Daniel said. "The hardest part is packing and unpacking, taking stuff in the hotel, taking it out. Now we won't have to do that."

 Daniel looks forward to participating in the new Elite Series, which offers more than $7.4 million in prize money in 11 prestigious events around the country, as well as unprecedented media exposure with coverage on The CITGO Bassmasters on ESPN2, and in print and on Web sites. The tournament fields will be limited to 106 of the world's best anglers.

 "BASS is all about finding out who the best angler is," said Daniel. "Cutting the field makes it a more professional tour. And the off-limits and practice rules BASS has are great. Whoever wins a tournament should be the best fisherman on a lake at that time, not somebody who's been there fishing for a month with a guide. That's the way I like it and that's the way it should be."

 Daniel's boat wrap sponsor is Bob's Machine Shop of Tampa, a company that produces hydraulic jack plates used by many Florida anglers, as well as other high-performance parts for outboards and boats. He also has backing from Triton Boats, Evinrude Outboards, Lowrance Electronics, Berkley fishing line and Abu Garcia rods and reels.

 "To win a BASS event, you've really got to be on top of your game," Daniel said. "It's hard. I admire anybody who's won a Bassmaster event. Those anglers are my heroes."