The Hard Way

GREENVILLE, S.C. — He will admit to it. Usually this time of year, Chris Loftus of Bloomfield, N.Y., is skiing.

Instead, Loftus and the eight others who qualified for their first Bassmaster Classic through an Open event, the Weekend Series or a Federation Nation qualifier found themselves Friday on the biggest BASS stage in the world.

"Welcome to the big show!"

With these words, emcee Keith Alan greeted angler Jay Fuller as he carried his bag of fish to the scales. Fuller was one of three other anglers to not only fish his first Classic, but will also fish the entire 2008 Elite Series.

The Oklahoman weighed in 11 pounds, 5 ounces of fish to put him in 28th place among all competitors after Day One.

For angler Jeff Freeman, who currently sits in 17th place, the experience was too overwhelming for him to complete his sentence.

"When they pulled me through that door — shooo," Freeman said, motioning towards the backstage tunnel leading into the arena.

But one thing Freeman could do on Friday was find fish. The Max Meadows, Va., native turned in a 14-3 stringer to show for his efforts. Not too shabby for someone who claimed "I didn't sleep any last night."

Federation Western Division champion, Mike Baskett proved that he did come all the way from Oregon to fish. And even though his own trolling motor went down Friday around 8:30 a.m., Baskett was still able to finish Friday in 14th place.

"You always hear 'you got to try and beat the other Federation guys,'" he said. "But I don't really think about what the other guys are doing."

Baskett's sentiment is often shared among current Elite Series pros. The Classic wouldn't be a $500,000 competition if anglers weren't also competing against each other.

Brent Haimes, of Mazeppa, Minn., tries to subscribe to the same doctrine of fishing against oneself.

"I see the big names and try to treat it like just another tournament," Haimes said. "But I still have moments that I am intimidated. I think the neatest thing is to realize the pros are just like you and me, but they're businessmen and politicians, too."

Haimes caught a limit at 8-7 and finds himself in the 38th spot after Day One.

But perhaps the best reflection of the entire day's experience for a new Classic angler came from South African Richard Watson.

"I had a good experience ice fishing, today," he joked, about the frigid conditions. "But it's something you'll — something I'll never forget in my life." After Day One's 7-9, he stands in 40th place with work to be done.

A Bassmaster Classic has a powerful impact on an angler, no matter which continent or bend in the river he claims as home.