CELEBRATION, Fla. — Heading into the fourth Bassmaster Elite Series event of the 2007 season on Clarks Hill Lake in Georgia, there are two heavy pre-tournament favorites.
Davy Hite, last year's Clarks Hill Elite Series winner and 1999 Bassmaster Classic champion, is an obvious choice because of his vast experience on the 71,000-acre lake.
A less popular pick to win the Pride of Georgia presented by Evan Williams Bourbon is Elite Series rookie Jason Williamson. At 26, Williamson is one of the youngest competitors on the high-profile circuit but his detailed knowledge of Clarks Hill puts him on equal footing with the more accomplished Hite.
The Aiken, S.C., pro scored two second-place finishes in 2006 on the Bassmaster Northern and Southern qualifying Tours.
"Clarks Hill is my home lake, so I'm excited about the tournament," Williamson said. "I grew up fishing Clarks Hill and I'm real comfortable with it."
At age 15, Williamson fished his first bass tournament on Clarks Hill. Competing against 104 other teams, he and friend Tommy Walker won the event and the then 10th grader pocketed $2,000.
"That lake is what made me what I am today," Williamson said. "I've won a bunch of money there in April and May and I'm proud to be one of the favorites going in, there's no doubt."
Since then, Williamson has competed in dozens of tournaments on the South Carolina-Georgia border lake.
When pressed, Williamson admits that his familiarity with the reservoir gives him an edge over most of the field of more seasoned pros.
"If you ask me, I have a definite advantage &151; it's just so many years on the lake and, as big as it is, just knowing the whole lake," he said.
Williamson's start on the Elite Series has been a little rocky with a 67th-place finish at the season-opening event on Lake Amistad followed by an 85th at the California Delta. But at the recent Elite event on Clear Lake, he rebounded nicely and finished 13th.
"The first two tournaments I made two or three rookie mistakes that really cost me," Williamson said. "I kind of caught my groove the last day at the Delta. There is an adjustment process to fishing in this circuit. I look over my shoulder and there's Kevin VanDam on one side and Denny Brauer on the other. And here we go; I've got to beat those guys. It's a different mindset for me. I grew up watching them on TV and it took a couple of tournaments to get settled in."
What does an angler do after winning his first major BASS tournament and shattering the all-time BASS four-day weight record in the process?
If you're Steve Kennedy, you hang around for more. After the completion of the third event of the season on California's Clear Lake, the Auburn, Ala., angler, who took home $110,000 with the win, decided to stay in California.
Kennedy achieved two prized accomplishments in his more than one-week stay in California. In addition to the new BASS record, he caught his first bass weighing more than 10 pounds.
"We took a break for a couple of days," the 2006 Toyota Rookie of the Year said. "It was a great opportunity to enjoy California. Clear Lake is such an amazing fishery and I have never seen a lake like that one."
Elite Series pro Kenyon Hill's Triton boat is covered with a distinctive and colorful wrap that features the menacing jaws of a wolf — the logo of IronWolf.
IronWolf is a Noble, Okla., company that manufactures heavy equipment for such tasks as clearing land, reclaiming asphalt and mining.
Hill, who has appeared in three Bassmaster Classics, will look to repeat his 2006 success at the Pride of Georgia presented by Evan Williams Bourbon this weekend. He finished second in the 2006 Elite event on Clarks Hill Lake.
WHAT I LEARNED FROM BASSMASTER MAGAZINE.
Elite Series rookie Scott Campbell is an avid reader of Bassmaster Magazine.
"The biggest lesson that I've taken from the magazine is just now becoming very apparent to me," the 24-year-old Missouri pro said. "Versatility is something that a lot of the Elite Series guys talk about.
"If you're a weekend fisherman that fishes your home lake every weekend, you really don't have to be versatile," Campbell said. "You have those little honey holes that you go to every time and catch fish without really thinking too hard. But when you go to lakes like Clear Lake and any of the lakes we fish, if you try to do the same thing four days in a row you're going to get beat bad because the fish change so much."
We've heard of feeding bass, but this is ridiculous.
A couple of years ago, Elite Series pro Jason Williamson was fishing around a dilapidated boat dock when he picked up something strange with his Carolina rig. It turned out to be a fork.
DID YOU KNOW?
Texas (12) and Alabama (12) are represented by more Elite Series anglers than any other state. Florida (11) and Oklahoma (9) follow.
IF I HADN'T BECOME A BASS PRO...
Elite Series pro Jeff Connella would likely be working more hours as an engineer. The Louisiana angler has a degree in civil engineering and currently works for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
THEY SAID IT.
"The first thing that comes to mind is the fact that we truly love to fish. Dedication is the key to longevity in this sport. I've always said that I fish for the right reasons and that's because I have a passion for the sport of fishing." Elite Series pro Gary Klein on his love of competing in the sport of bass-fishing.