New York, New York

It's never happened before, at least not within anyone's memory — two Bassmaster Classic qualifiers from the same Federation Nation affiliated club in the same year.

"We're proud of what they have accomplished," says Pam Bliss, president of the New York BASS Chapter Federation (NYBCF). "The Rochester Bassmasters do a good job, as do all of our clubs. To have two active members from one club, especially a club with about 70 members, qualify for the biggest event in bass fishing is really something."

Something it is ... fluke it isn't.

Matthew Spahr, a part-time carpenter and tree trimmer, quickly worked his way through the ranks of bass fishing. He joined the Rochester Bassmasters in 1999 and cheerfully fished from the back of the boat his first year. It was required by the rules. Within two years he was winning state titles, and within eight he was fishing the Elite Series.

"I knew he was something special when I first saw him fish from the back of the boat. I knew Matt wouldn't be an amateur long," says fellow Classic qualifier Chris Loftus. "A lot of guys talk about turning professional after a couple of good tournaments, but they don't know what it takes. Matt does. He'll be recognized as one of the greats of our sport some day."

Loftus, a longtime veteran of amateur competition with BASS, finally reached his lifetime fishing goal this year when he qualified to fish the Classic on Lake Hartwell.

"Chris (Loftus) worked 20 years to get to the Classic. There isn't anybody around that's worked harder or deserves it more. He's serious about bass fishing and improving our sport," says Spahr. "And let's face it, qualifying through the Federation Nation is a hard road. You've got to catch a lot of fish. I didn't do it — tried but didn't make it. My hat goes off to him.

"I wish him the best and hope he finishes second in February," Sphar laughs.

Each man holds two NYBCF Angler of the Year titles and credits much of his success to the New York program. "It's a tough place to fish. The point trail is designed to be difficult. The tournaments are scattered around the state on different types of water and held at different times of the year. You've got to know how to do a lot of things," says Loftus.

Spahr agrees, "I wouldn't be fishing the Elite Series if it wasn't for the New York program. I learned a lot about bass fishing with them and they deserve a lot of the credit for my success."

Bliss takes great pride in hearing those statements. "We want our program to be tough. It's designed to be tough. We don't have a set schedule, and we don't fish the same places year after year. You can't qualify (for the Classic) from here unless you can fish big lakes, small lakes, rivers and tidal waters. We think that's the only way to be fair and for our anglers to be competitive."

It's hard to argue with success.