Fed contenders nervous, excited

DECATUR, Ala. — Today is the day of truth for contenders in the 2012 Cabela's Bassmaster Federation Nation Championship. Many have been waiting for months to get here after qualifying much earlier in the year. Some only qualified a few weeks ago at the Eastern and Mid-Atlantic divisionals.

But all of them have been waiting for years to get to this point — competing in the championship for a shot at fishing in the Bassmaster Classic. And they’re not taking it for granted.

“I’m nervous because I know what’s at stake,” said Chris Molineaux, who is representing his home state of Rhode Island here this week. “I’ve been to a championship before. I’ve watched from the seats as the other guys who had put in their practice advanced to the Classic. I realized then that it could have been me up there on the Classic stage if I had done better. That’s why I came early and practiced on Wheeler Lake for a whole week before the cutoff.”

Several anglers echoed his sentiment at launch this morning. Jared Knuth, who is competing for Nebraska, said he was nervous, too. “I’ve dreamed about a trip to the Bassmaster Classic since I was 10 years old.”

Tony Choe, the Angler of the Year from the Paralyzed Veterans of America tour, expressed confidence based on his practice but realized the benefit of a cool head. “I just need to calm myself down and enjoy myself out there today.”

It was working at last check. Choe had four in his boat by 7:45 this morning, two of which he estimated at 4 pounds each. “I caught all four in just 15 minutes,” he said.

None of the anglers were willing to divulge too much information before the first day of competition started. But Jamie Sochocki of Michigan did share his game plan: “Strategy No. 1: Have fun!” he said as he was getting his tackle ready this morning.

But again, today is the “day of truth,” where contenders will see where the others are fishing, what the top weights are and, in general, what the top techniques are.

Jamie Horton, defending champion from last year’s championship, said he expects that the fishery is in the middle of a change. “It’s shaping up to be a better tournament than it was in practice,” he said.

It was 55 degrees and mild when the 56 competitors launched this morning at Ingalls Harbor, and it will be about 80 by check-in time this afternoon. The anglers are competing to be the best in their respective divisions; the top angler from each of the six divisions heads to Tulsa, Okla., in February to fish in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.

To see who’s competing this week, view this photo gallery or download this score card. Be sure to tune in here today at 3 p.m. CT for the first-day weigh-in.

Competition will conclude Saturday, Oct. 27.