The inaugural ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series National Championship this week on Florida's East Lake Tohopekaliga will reward the country's top weekend angler with $100,000 and the final slot in next month's CITGO Bassmaster Classic.
So why then are four former Bassmaster Classic qualifiers Jason Quinn, Jeff Coble, Kim Carver and Jamie Horton included in the championship field of 50 anglers? That's a question many people have been asking.
Should big-time pros be allowed to compete in lower-level circuits?
"I'm no big-time pro. You're talking about Jason Quinn; he's a big-time pro," said Coble, who competed in the 2002 Bassmaster Classic. "I don't feel bad, though."
"I agree that someday, somewhere, somehow there needs to be an established level thing where the people at the top level can't come down to the bottom levels," he said. "Yeah, 10 years ago I fished at the top level and quickly figured out that that wasn't for me. So I don't see anything wrong with this.
"One thing that people forget, too, is you're fishing for a slot in those elite pros' championship (the Bassmaster Classic). How can you say that (Bassmaster Tour-level pros) should not be able to fish any of the lower-tier tournaments if they're fishing for a slot to be in their biggest championship of the year?"
Quinn, who is hoping to qualify for his fourth Bassmaster Classic appearance, doesn't agree with the complaints.
"I guarantee you the whole field is grumbling about it," the South Carolina pro said. "But nothing was given to us. We had to go out, and we had to catch them to qualify."
"It wasn't a piece of cake," Quinn said. "We were fishing against the top anglers on every local lake that these qualifying tournaments were held on. I had no practice time for any of the events that I fished. Guys are complaining about us being professionals and it isn't right for us to fish these tournaments. But we earned the right to be here. We worked hard and caught them when we had to. It wasn't easy."
Both Coble and partner David Wright qualified for the Bassmaster Series National Championship. The North Carolina pros share a unique working relationship. They help each other in tournaments at various levels, then split their earnings at the end of the year.
"Obviously, with both of us in it, we're going to do a lot of teamwork. But with it being in Florida, it's pretty neutral ground for us," Coble said. "We don't have any advantage over anybody down there. It's going to come down to the guy that gets the bigger bite one day, probably."
Perhaps surprisingly, returning to the Bassmaster Classic isn't the primary goal this week for Coble, who works as a regional sales rep for Triton Boats.
"I guess making the Classic is more important to someone like Jason," he said. "I've made the Classic and it was great, but I'm after the $100,000. That's my No. 1 priority."
"The Classic would be a bonus for me because I have no intentions to fish professionally full time," Coble said. "When we set out to fish this (circuit), our goal was to get in the Championship and hopefully win $100,000. When you've only got one slot (for the Bassmaster Classic), that's pretty hard to count on."
Coble was full of praise for the first year of the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series.
"I really like it," he said. "I was one of the ones really pushing for it, because I felt like BASS needed something for the guy that was a little more active in tournament fishing but didn't want to be a full-time pro. For a first-year program, I thought it came off pretty well. I've already entered two divisions for next year."
Bass and golf
Three sports companies have combined to partner in the development of a unique series of events that will combine bass fishing and golf.
California-based Eclipse Sports & Entertainment and Bassworx have combined with Golf Digest Schools in Arizona on the new venture. Four tournaments and six schools are planned for 2006 at resort venues throughout the United States, including internationally renowned Greenbrier in West Virginia. Other locations include Scottsdale, Ariz., Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla.
The so-called Bass & Birdies events will include two-day schools and two-day tournaments. All programs are designed to attract teams from businesses or other organizations, although individuals are welcome, as well. The schools and the tournaments will offer golf, fishing, celebrity guests and entertainment packages. The first event will be held April 6-7 at PGA National in Florida; there are 20 spots available.
CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series pro Mike O'Shea, who is represented by BassWorx, will be involved. O'Shea, who regularly gives fishing instructions to executives, is an avid golfer.
"We are excited about the collaboration between professional golf and bass fishing," the California pro said. "Bass fishing is reaching comparable heights of notoriety to the golf industry. Both sports are favorite American pastimes, coupling both athletic skills and the love of the outdoors. We hope to provide a unique and natural marriage of the two industries."
Believe it or not, 2005 Bassmaster Classic contender and Bassmaster Elite Series pro Bradley Stringer once posed for a photo with a rock that he caught in Kentucky Lake.
"I thought I had a big bass," the Texas pro said. "I was throwing a Carolina rig and I felt a bump. I set the hook. The hook somehow found a soft spot in the rock, and I fought it to the boat. I pulled it in and my dad took a picture of it."
Did you know?
Popular former CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle has never won a BASS event. But he certainly has been close, producing two seconds, two thirds and 17 top-10 finishes.
A pair of former Bassmaster Classic champions Ken Cook, 59, and Denny Brauer, 57 will celebrate their birthdays Feb. 2 and 3, respectively.
If I hadn't become a BASS pro
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Steve Daniel likely would still be in the boilermaker business. The Florida angler was well suited for that profession, since his small stature allowed him to squeeze into pipes and other confined places.
"I don't miss that at all," Daniel said recently. "In fact, when I fish around power plants it reminds me how lucky I am to be doing what I'm doing."
They said it
"Even back when I was 15 or 16, I was thinking that this would be cool. I fished my first tournament when I was 16. I was looking at Bassmaster magazine and thought that this was really neat. Or this was something that I would really love to do be a professional fisherman. But did I really think that this would happen? No, not really."
Eight-time BASS-event winner and Bassmaster Elite Series pro Shaw Grigsby