Pratt to defend title on James River

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In July 2011, Kelly Pratt of Williamsburg, Va., parlayed a lifetime of James River expertise into an entry in the tournament of his dreams, the Bassmaster Classic.

Like any angler who’s had a taste of the Classic, Pratt wants seconds. To get it, once again he’ll have to beat about 140 other anglers in a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open out of host city Richmond, Va.

The three-day competition will begin Thursday, June 14, and run through Saturday, June 16, out of Osborne Park and Boat Landing in Henrico, Va. The final-day weigh-in will be at the Ashland, Va., Bass Pro Shops store.

Some of those 140-plus anglers entered as pros are darn good fishermen. Several are even Bassmaster Elite Series anglers — Michael Iaconelli, Stephen Browning and Fred Roumbanis, for example. But few could match Pratt’s experience of 50-plus years on the James.

As Pratt, who will turn 53 in July, put it, “I was born and raised with my feet in the water.”

His story is like those of many local favorites who enter Open tournaments. He cut his fishing teeth on the rivers around home. His father was his teacher. They fished mostly from the bank, and mostly just for fun. Since he started entering tournaments at age 20, he’s won about 100 James River events, he said.

Unlike some local favorites in Opens, Pratt won handily on the James in that 2011 Open. His margin of victory was more than 5 pounds over seasoned Alabama pro Randall Tharp. Pratt’s haul was 42 pounds, 6 ounces over three days to take the Northern Open prize that included the 2012 Classic qualification.

This time around, the competition will be June 14-16, about a month earlier in the fishing season. The earlier dates might change the game on the James, but the river’s tidal conditions often dictate the bite.

The June 14-16 event is the Northern Open circuit’s season opener. Each of the season’s three tournaments will award a Classic berth to the winner in addition to a boat-and-cash purse worth more than $50,000. To claim the Classic spot, the Open winner must compete in all three of the division’s tournaments.

About 140 co-anglers will also be on the James River this week. They’ll compete from the backs of pros’ boats for a first prize of a bass rig valued at $35,000.

The 280 anglers have already begun to arrive in Richmond, Va., and the surrounding area. Open anglers can practice for as many days as they wish to leading up to the competition. The full field will compete for two days. Only the Top 12 pros and co-anglers will advance to the finals on the Day Three.

The public is invited to watch the morning launches from Osborne Park, 9530 Osborne Turnpike, Henrico, Va. Take-off time is set for 6 a.m. ET. Weigh-ins on the first two days will be at Osborne Park beginning at 2 p.m. ET. The final weigh-in will move to the Bass Pro Shops location in Ashland at 11550 Lakeridge Parkway; it’s set to begin at 3 p.m. ET. There is no admission charge for any Bassmaster event. will provide online coverage. The site will offer free access to all features, which will include real-time leaderboards, live streaming of the weigh-ins, standings, photo galleries and daily game stories.

The local host of the event is the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, 401 N. Third St., Richmond, VA 23219, 888-RICHMOND (742-4666).