See below for news of a special event on Feb. 26 in conjunction with the Open, the Wounded Warrior Benefit Tournament.
Tommy Martin of Hemphill, Texas, is the 1974 Bassmaster Classic champ and veteran of 306 Bassmaster events, but he's never competed on Texas' Lewisville Lake north of Dallas. Yet he's happy to hear that the lake is fishing tough, and is likely to continue doing so for the Feb. 24-26 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open.
"I like that," Martin said. "When everybody catches huge bags, what can you do to win? No, I like a tough tournament where experience pays off."
Experience he has, if not on Lewisville. You don't compete until the age of almost 70 without gaining enough knowledge to wing it on unknown water, but research helps, too.
Martin said he's learned that Lewisville water tends to be stained, the majority of the catches come in water 10 feet or less, and standing timber and laydowns provide most of the cover. Big fish live there. Martin cites as proof the 12-pounder that Kevin VanDam caught during a June 2005 Bassmaster Elite 50 event, when he bagged 58-12 over four days.
"That goes to show you there are good fish in Lewisville but that was in warmer weather," he said. "Even if it warms up over the next few weeks, it's still going to be a tough tournament."
Martin said he believes he is not alone in his lack of Lewisville history.
"It's a sleeper lake," he said. "If you compete on, say, Toledo or Rayburn, most everybody has fished those lakes and they know areas where they can try to find fish. Nobody knows Lewisville, so it's one of those lakes that forces anglers to apply every bit of fishing ability they have."
Like Martin, pro-side entry Bart Gardner has never competed on Lewisville, but he has researched the lake's bass-fishing potential. How he'll approach the lake depends on the weather, he said, which is iffy. Anyone who followed the 2011 Super Bowl heard about the snow that cascaded off the stadium dome. That sort of rare front shuts down the bass bite and delays spawning on area lakes, said Gardner, who as a Dallas resident weathered the Super Bowl in his backyard as well as the ice storm that followed a few days later.
But by the time anglers arrive in Lewisville, a warming trend could kick in and get some spawners moving, Gardner said.
"Who knows? The end of February, we could have another ice storm, we could have days in the 50s and low 60s," he said. "I'm checking the weather reports, and they are predicting a warm-up over the next few weeks."
Regardless of temperatures, he expects to see some kicker fish weighed in, and 14 to 15 pounds a day is realistic, depending on the spawning stage, he said.
Anglers searching for structure and cover have rocky bluffs, banks, riprap, points and timber, he said. Because it is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake, there are very few docks and boathouses to target.
He said the lake will "fish big" even though it is a medium-sized impoundment. The lake surface area spans 29,000 acres and has 233 miles of shoreline, according to the host city of Lewisville, Texas (www.visitlewisville.com).
A real estate appraiser who owns his own company, Gardner said he competes to have fun and become a better angler. He has, of course, eyed the 2012 Bassmaster Classic qualification that will be awarded to the event winner on top of $10,000 cash and a boat rig valued at $45,000.
Martin, who has qualified for 19 Classics, also likes the new winner's package.
"That Classic seat is a big incentive, especially for those just starting out. I know when I started, it was one of my goals to just be in it," said Martin, who won the Classic the first time he qualified, then went on to qualify for another 18 world championships.
Martin competed as a full-time touring pro until 2006, then stepped away from Bassmaster events after the 2005 season because he was tired of living on the road. He came back to Bassmaster tournaments in 2010 by entering the Central Open circuit because the schedule brought events to Texas.
It was much the same story for a friend of his, Roland Martin (no relation to Tommy Martin), who competed last month in Florida at age 70 in the Southern Open division's 2011 season opener.
"Roland had somehow gotten the idea that he was too old to fish, and that's a bunch of nonsense," Tommy Martin said. "You can continue in this sport up into your 70s and still be competitive. You can't do that in any other sport I know of."
Facts about the Feb. 24-26 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open
A full field will compete the first two days, Thursday and Friday, Feb. 24-25. Only the top 12 in the pro and co-angler divisions will compete on Saturday, the final day.
Daily launches are set for 6:45 a.m. CST at Lewisville Lake Park, 100 E. Lake Park Road, Lewisville, TX 75057.
Day 1 and Day 2 weigh-ins will be at Lewisville Lake Park. Start time is 3 p.m. CST.
Bass Pro Shops in Grapevine will host the final weigh-in at 3:45 p.m. CST. The Bass Pro address is 2501 Bass Pro Drive, Grapevine, TX 76051; 972-724-2018.
All launches and weigh-ins are open to the public, and there's no charge to attend.
Bassmaster.com will provide full tournament coverage, including streaming video and real-time leaderboards from the weigh-in each day. Also planned are B.A.S.S.Cam video reports, daily analysis and results, and online photo galleries.
Special event at the Open
B.A.S.S. has teamed up with two U.S. Marine Corps veterans to provide a fishing opportunity for wounded soldiers on Feb. 26 during the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open event in Lewisville, Texas.
While the Central Open finalists fish on Lewisville Lake, recovering soldiers from the Warrior Family & Support Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, will be paired with Bassmaster Open anglers for a day of friendly competition on Lake Grapevine.
The event, Wounded Warrior Benefit Tournament, was organized by USMC vets David Kincaid and John Elmore, both from Texas. They modeled their tournament after an event they participated in while on active duty in 2006. At the time, Elmore was recovering from a leg injury sustained in Iraq, for which he received a Purple Heart.
Kincaid, a vet of 13 years with deployments to Europe, Africa and Iraq, was luckier.
"My unit and I returned from Iraq with no serious injuries, unlike many other units, and I felt very lucky. I just want to help my fellow veterans," Kincaid said.
About 15 three-angler teams will participate in the Wounded Warrior Benefit Tournament, according to Chris Bowes, B.A.S.S. senior tournament manager. One of the team members will be a pro who provides the boat, and the other two team members will be soldiers. Each boat can bring in one five-fish limit of legal-length bass (14-inch minimum).
There are no entry fees and no big prizes, Bowes said, but braggin' rights are on the line. The teams will officially weigh their fish on the Bassmaster stage on Saturday, Feb. 26, at 1:30 p.m. CST at the Grapevine, Texas, Bass Pro Shops location, followed by the Central Open finale weigh-in at 3:45 p.m.
The boaters will be anglers who do not make the final-day cut. Bowes said he already has a list of volunteers who want to fish with the soldiers. One such angler is Dave Mansue, a Texas transplant and retired law enforcement officer who competes full time at the Opens level.
"I have a special appreciation for what those men and women do on a daily basis," said Mansue, who served in the National Guard in the 1970s before he began a 30-year career in law enforcement. "I also have a special appreciation for the freedoms they afford us and the sacrifices they make.
"For me, it's truly an honor to contribute in some way to their day on the water enjoying the outdoors. If I don't make the cut, I still win."
The Warrior & Family Support Center at Fort Sam Houston is a haven for wounded soldiers and their families. It is a facility of Returning Heroes Home.