KISSIMMEE, Fla. How's this for the ultimate "Spring Break" trip: a fishing trip to a fishery that set a BASS all-time heavyweight catch, and if you're lucky a trip to a nearby lake where the bass grow big and rarely see lures tossed by tournament anglers.
That utopia of a lineup is what awaits the global contingent of 55 anglers set to compete in the 2005 BASS Federation Championship set for Lake Tohopekaliga and Walt Disney World's Bay Lake, April 27-30.
History was made in 2000 when Arizona pro Dean Rojas caught a record five bass limit, weighing 45 pounds, 2 ounces, from Lake Toho during a BASS event held on the central Florida fishery. It is a record that could be broken again, and Toho is considered a candidate for eclipsing the huge catch. Or it could be at Bay Lake, a 582-acre fishery located inside Walt Disney World Resort and within view of the Magic Kingdom. The allure of Bay Lake is that it sees little pressure from hard-core anglers, although guided fishing trips from pontoon boats are available to resort visitors.
The first Federation Championship held in Florida will also make history, whether it's a record-breaking catch or not, according to BASS Federation Director Don Corkran.
"For the first time, the BASS Federation is introducing a 'cut' format to our championship event," announced Corkran. "We will be cutting from the top 55 amateur anglers in the world to 15 after two days of competition on Lake Toho. The smaller field will compete on Bay Lake, a spectacular fishery that few tournament anglers get to fish."
The three anglers with the highest cumulative two day weight in each of the BASS Federation's five geographic divisions will make the cut. In order to accommodate the new format, the competition week will shift from two practice days and three competition days to a single practice day followed by four days of competition.
After two days of competition on Lake Toho, the 15 anglers making the cut will move on to Bay Lake for the final two rounds.
Local organizers are excited about the possibilities for the tournament and a week of associated activities, including the Bassmaster CastingKids semifinals and meetings for BASS Federation presidents and conservation directors.
"We are excited to be working with Osceola County and The Walt Disney Co. to stage this prestigious event within our community," said John Saboor, executive director of the Central Florida Sports Commission. "Our goal is to exceed the expectations of all involved and set the foundation for Osceola County to be positioned to host on a regular basis."
To qualify for the tournament, amateur anglers from 46 states, the District of Columbia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Italy, Canada, Mexico and Japan compete in a series of qualifying tournaments to represent their state or national BASS Federation. The 2005 champion of the Paralyzed Veterans of America Grand National tournament and defending BASS Federation champion Thad Takes are also invited to fish for the top spot and one of five amateur berths in the 2005 Bassmaster Classic.
For many of the anglers, the opportunity to compete in a tournament on Bay Lake at the Walt Disney World Resort is an especially unique chance. The fishery, which was first stocked with more than 70,000 bass fingerlings in the late 1960s, is primarily open to guided daily excursions for resort guests and Florida residents throughout the year, rather than a tournament site.
"The BASS Federation Championship provides a wonderful opportunity for competitive anglers to experience Bay Lake and other fishing resources at Walt Disney World Resort," added Greg Waldron, fisheries manager for Disney Sports Attractions. "With BASS relocating to central Florida this year, we hope the Federation Championship is just the start of many BASS events to be contested at the world's most popular vacation destination."