The Bass Anglers Sportsman Society’s annual Bassmasters Classic often is referred to as the Super Bowl of fishing. The quality of the anglers competing lives up to that high standard and the showmanship and excitement of Classic week attains that level as well.
The fishing for this year’s event was held on Lake Hartwell on the Georgia and South Carolina border on February 20 – 22, with the associated events held in Greenville, South Carolina. What started as a simple bass fishing tournament in 1971 now looks like a happening that borrows from the Super Bowl, World Series and NASCAR on its way to attracting a throng of passionate angling fans.
The competition brings together 56 of the top anglers from all over the nation, as well as from as far away at Osaka, Japan. An invitation to fish the Bassmasters Classic is just as tough a ticket as winning in the NFL or Major League Baseball. Hundreds of thousands of BASS members strive to reach that pinnacle, along with millions of other bass fishers across the U.S. that would also love to be fishing the tourney.
The first day of this year’s tournament tested the mettle of the fishermen. When they launched their boats at Green Pond Landing on the South Carolina side of the lake the air temperature stood at 10 degrees. The anglers spent the day dipping rods and reels into the water to get the ice off their gear while fishing.
Each angler can weigh in five fish each of the three days of the event. The fish must be alive and are later released back into the lake. The fisherman with the most pounds of bass wins. Anglers bring in dead fish are penalized in the standings. After the first two days of fishing, the field is cut to the top 25 anglers for the final day.
Despite the horrid conditions, Dean Rojas of Lake Havasu City, Arizona brought in 21 pounds, 2 ounces of bass to lead the field. By the end of day two, Takahiro Omori of Emory, Texas had taken the lead with 31 pounds and 11 ounces. The final weigh in takes place today to decide the winner. Coming on strong on the final day to win the tournament was local favorite Casey Ashley from Donalds, South Carolina. His total weight for the event was 50 pounds, 1 ounce.
These fishermen are not just out for bragging rights: the winning angler goes home $300,000 richer, while the rest of the field shares the total purse of $1 million.
At the same time the professional anglers are on the water, the Bassmasters Classic Outdoor Expo also was taking place at the TD Convention Center in Greenville. Outdoor vendors, displays, hands on activities and angling seminars annual draw more than 100,000 visitors to the Classic and Expo.
The days finished with the anglers bring their catches to the Bon Secour Wellness Area in Greenville for the daily weigh-in. These evenings are sporting galas have the pomp of outdoor Oscar or Emmy awards.