Trying to get back to the Classic

GADSDEN, Ala. — A year ago they were fishing in the relatively balmy breezes of the Harris Chain of Lakes in Central Florida, trying hard to win their divisions in the BASS Federation Nation Championship and gain their ticket to compete in the Bassmaster Classic.

 Joel St. Germain and Anre' De Villiers were both successful in that campaign, with De Villiers of South Africa becoming the first international winner of the event and St. Germain winning the Eastern Division and picking up his second Classic qualification.

 A year later, they're both back at it, wearing at least another two layers of clothing as they ply the waters of Neely Henry Lake in Central Alabama in the drizzle and occasional sleet.

 For St. Germain, winning the Eastern Division competition and a third trip to the Classic would be to build on an experience he describes as "phenomenal".

 "My first trip to the Classic (in 2003), I didn't get a lot of love", he said. "Last year it was really great, a lot of love".

 St. Germain's efforts last year in the Federation Nation Championship were featured prominently in the television coverage as he worked his shallow water pattern with a hefty surplus of confidence and energy.

 The Rhode Island native credits another New Englander with helping to develop his TV persona.

 "I've been out fishing multiple times with Charlie Moore (of the ESPN series Beat Charlie Moore) and he's kind of my mentor as far as fishing on TV goes," St. Germain said. "He stressed to me that the window, the time you get to do your thing on camera is small, so you have to make every fish, every catch look big."

 St. Germain was in fifth place in the Eastern Division after day one of this year's championship, six and a half pounds behind the leader.

 "I missed some big opportunities out there, but on this lake in these conditions, catching the leader is nothing — that lead isn't safe," he said.

 For De Villiers, winning last year's event was the first step in a long held plan to fish professionally in the United States. After securing his victory by gambling on deep offshore structure while the rest of the field fished shallow, De Villiers stuck to the game plan by fishing the Bassmaster Northern Open Division during the 2006 season. But it wasn't easy.

 De Villiers (a boat builder from Goodwood, South Africa) did his best to maintain his business at home while commuting to America to fish the BASS events.

 "I made ten trips back and forth, twenty plus hours per flight, and that can be exhausting," he said. "I even had to miss one event completely and a lot of pre-fishing opportunities because of the schedule."

 But the experience was positive, including learning how to always craft a "plan B" and being prepared to go with it.

 "At home, the reservoirs are generally smaller and we always count on being able to get to our fish every day," he said. "Over here, the lakes can be huge and the weather makes you do something entirely different on certain days. I learned how to deal with that and found that you can still get good success that way."

 DeVillier's plan is to keep the U.S. campaign going again in 2007, having sold his business at home to devote more time to pro fishing. He's also dealing with residency and work status issues with immigration authorities and is hoping for good results.

 After day one in the Federation Nation Championship, De Villiers is just over five pounds back of the Southern Division leader and in 15th place overall.

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