Somewhat lost in the excitement of the final five pros qualifying for the upcoming CITGO Bassmaster Classic through the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship was the elimination of a former Classic champion.
Takahiro Omori, the '04 Classic champ, arrived in Alabama at the Open Championship with two hopes of earning a Classic invitation: either making the top five or having an already Classic-bound angler double qualify, bumping Omori into bass fishing's most major event. Unfortunately for the popular 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series pro, neither happened. Omori placed 14th in the Open Championship and the five top finishers had not already qualified for the world championship.
"I had the opportunities, but I didn't do enough," said Omori, who was born in Japan and now lives in Emory, Texas. Omori fished both the CITGO Bassmaster Tour and E-50s, but just missed the Classic cut in both series. "I made the Open Championship fishing just two tournaments. So I had all kinds of opportunities, but sometimes you can have too many. I know that sounds funny.
"I had my best year this year, but it just didn't happen," said Omori, who won a CITGO Bassmaster Open event this year.
The 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic will be held Feb. 24-26 on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla. Omori won a Bassmaster Tour tournament there with 50 pounds, 11 ounces in January.
CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series pros Skeet Reese and Gerald Swindle were recently featured presenters at a sports award show celebrating southern sports that was taped in Atlanta, Ga., in late November.
Reese and Swindle presented an award and highlighted the sport of bass fishing to the crowd, including A-listers Shaquille O'Neal of the Miami Heat, the NFL's Michael Vick, NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Ashley Judd.
"It was similar to my experience during ESPN's ESPY Awards last year. It's pretty cool to be part of shows like this and having Skeet there with me just added to it," Swindle said.
"These events are great for the sport because it demonstrates our growing popularity," Reese added.
At the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship in Alabama, BASS founder Ray Scott asked Chad Brauer of Missouri to recall his first BASS tournament.
"I fished my first BASS event when I was 16," he replied. "It was my birthday present when I turned 16. I was entered into an Invitational on Lake Guntersville as a co-angler. I didn't make a check, but I learned a lot. I fished with a guy that was in third after the first day and I fished the last day with a guy that finished third. So I learned a lot about Guntersville."
Elite pro Brauer will visit the fishery again on April 20-23, 2006 for the "Southern Challenge" during the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series.
On the heels of a successful Women's Bassmaster Tour preview event in October, registration is in full swing for the five WBT events in 2006. Tournaments will be held on fisheries in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina and Arkansas in conjunction with some of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series and Bassmaster Major events. Considering the fervent interest for the 2006 season, ladies who wish to participate should register at bassmaster.com or by calling 1-877-BASS-USA as soon as possible, according to Bruce Mathis, the Women's Bassmaster Tour director.
"The fields for pros and co-anglers are filling, so we're urging women to sign up while there's still space available," he said.
Imagine Jeff Kriet's amazement when his light line, drop shot finesse rig hooked the biggest fish of his life during practice for the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship on the Alabama River.
Somehow, the Oklahoman managed to snag a 65- to 70-pound paddlefish in the tail with a tiny No. 4 hook.
"I set the hook and I thought I had a giant spot," the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series pro said. "All of the sudden, that sucker jumped. It pulled off all of the line on my spinning reel and I had to chase it. It took me probably 12 or 14 minutes to get it in the boat. I called four of my buddies over to show it to them.
"It was so big that its tail was under the console of the boat and its bill was sticking out over the front of the deck."
Impressively, Kriet caught that huge fish on 8-pound test line.
Did you know?
Rick Clunn will be making a record 30th Classic appearance on Lake Toho in 2006. The lake was also the site of his 1977 Classic victory. Clunn won $50,000 in that tournament. In 2006, he's vying for 10 times that amount, a $500,000 first-place prize.
Kentucky pro Dan Morehead will be 38 on Dec. 21, while Kim Stricker of Michigan will celebrate his 54th birthday on Dec. 27. Former Classic champion David Fritts (49) and Open Championship winner Mike McClelland (38) share Dec. 29.
They said it
"I've wanted to fish in the big leagues for a long time and I've put that off as long as possible. Someday I will be married, I'm sure, but right now I'm married to the sport."
Open Championship qualifier and Elite Series competitor Jon Bondy, who is happily single and living in Windsor, Canada.
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