TULSA, Okla. — It would be easy for Jason Christie to sugarcoat things.
He could say it’s just another tournament, and he’ll approach it like he has the other 40 he’s fished with B.A.S.S. He could say he’s not feeling any additional pressure as one of the hometown favorites.
But this is the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.
It’s the Super Bowl of professional bass fishing, and he understands the opportunity that lies ahead.
“I can honestly say I’m feeling it a little bit,” said Christie, an Oklahoma native who lives just an hour from Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, where the 46th renewal of the iconic event will take place. “It’s hard not to feel some pressure when you’re hearing it so much from everybody. But I’m trying to turn it into a positive thing and feed off all of the energy.”
Competition days will be Friday through Sunday with daily take-offs at 7 a.m. CT from the Hard Rock Dock at the Wolf Creek Ramp launch site in Grove and daily weigh-ins at 3:15 p.m. at the BOK Center in Tulsa. The winning angler will earn $300,000 and a 50-pound trophy that is easily the most coveted in the sport.
The 55 competitors will find Grand Lake slightly above full pool. It’ll be quite the contrast to 2013, when the Classic was held on a drought-stricken Grand that was a couple of feet low.
The anglers can also expect warmer weather during this trip to Oklahoma, with forecasts calling for daytime temperatures in the 60s for all three competition days. The temperature at take-off for the opening round of the 2013 event was 19 degrees — a record low for the Classic at the time.
“I think they could hold the Classic on Grand 100 years in a row and not have better weather than what we’re supposed to have this year,” said James Elam, a Tulsa resident who is also considered by many to be one of the favorites. “We’ve had a little bit of a cold front come through lately, but it’s the first one we’ve had in a while. I don’t think you could ask for it to be any better.”
As for what to expect from the lake itself, Christie said he has no clue.
“This is a lake I’m plenty familiar with and a time of year when I really like being on that lake,” Christie said. “But to be brutally honest, I have no idea what to expect. I’ve been fishing other lakes, and the fish have just been upside down.
“The one thing I do know about Grand is that it’s slammed full of fish. They could be caught anywhere.”
Christie finished seventh the last time the Classic was held on Grand, but he was more than 11 pounds off the weight of champion Cliff Pace. He believes his knowledge of the lake may have actually hurt him in that event, and he’s taking a different approach this time.
“In that Classic, I thought I was on a good pattern,” Christie said. “Then when it didn’t go the way I expected it to go early, I started fishing ‘history.’ I started fishing places that I hadn’t fished in practice, hadn’t fished in years.
“I don’t want to do that this time. I want to go in fresh and figure out what’s going on now.”
The Classic often draws a crowd of spectator boats manned by avid fans who follow the anglers in hopes of seeing the action as it unfolds. Christie has been considered one of the favorites since Grand was announced as the Classic site last year, and he expects to have a large gallery with him wherever he goes.
He says he’ll consider a big crowd a sign that he’s doing well. But the possibility of having a large gallery behind him may change the way he plans for the tournament.
“The last time we had the Classic there, the number of spectator boats kind of caught me by surprise,” Christie said. “It may force me to do some things differently. But it’s a good sign that we’re growing the sport — and if we get to a point where people don’t want to watch me, it’ll probably mean I’m not catching any fish.”
As a first-time Classic qualifier, Elam said he doesn’t really know what to expect from a crowd standpoint.
“I know there’s nothing like the Classic, and it’s something I’ve never dealt with before,” said Elam, who enters the event as one of the hottest anglers in the sport after four straight Top 10 finishes in 2015. “I know it could affect me, depending on how I decide to fish. If you fish down a bank and a big crowd gets behind you and drifts in on that bank, it might make it hard to fish back down that same bank again.
“But a good crowd is definitely a good sign that you’re catching fish.”
For those who can't be out on the water, fans can watch all of the action as the tournament leaders catch bass in real time on the exclusive Classic LIVE program on Bassmaster.com beginning at 7:30 a.m. each day of competition. Watch hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona, along with guest host Davy Hite, as they provide analysis and live updates streamed from the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo.