Classic anglers say ‘expect low weights’

By Deborah Weisberg Contributing Writer

Pittsburgh — Though the three rivers could set an all-time low
in tournament pounds, they will pay big money in the CITGO
Bassmaster Classic, slated for the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio,
July 29 through 31.

The $700,000 showdown will cap a week of festivities that
includes: a big outdoors show at the David L. Lawrence Convention
Center; the second annual Junior Bassmaster World Championship; a
casting kids championship; Family Fest Day on which fans can meet
their favorite pro angler; and a host of other activities, all free
and open to the public. The weigh-ins at the Civic Arena are open
on a first-come, first-serve basis to 17,000 fans.

If Pittsburgh draws as well as other host cities, 80,000 fans
are expected to pour into town for Classic week, while millions
more will be watching on TV, since BASS’s parent company ESPN has
expanded live coverage. Extra waterways patrols have been hired,
since spectators are expected to crowd the rivers. At the 2003
Classic, champ-to-be Mike Iaconelli was followed by 57 boats,
according to Classic tournament director Trip Weldon.

In their only full week of official practice at the end of June,
the 46 Classic competitors bemoaned the lack of big bass in
Pittsburgh’s industrial waters, although a certain amount of
bluffing is expected among anglers competing for high stakes.

Besides cash, Classic champs are assured commercial
endorsements. Whoever has the heaviest weight on the third day
wins, and some say this year’s top poundage could break the
existing low-weight record — a 15- pound, 5-ounce three-day total
set by George Cochran on the Ohio River near Louisville, Ky., in
1987.

“If the fishing doesn’t get better, that record’ll be in
jeopardy,” chuckled Cochran, 55, and a veteran of 24 Classics,
after three days of pre-fishing in some of the hottest, muggiest
weather Pittsburgh has experienced in years. “We’re catching fish,
but they’re awful small — less than a pound.”

Until Cochran, the lowest- weight record for a Classic belonged
to Larry Nixon, a veteran of 20 Classics, who caught seven fish
totaling 18 pounds in 1983, also on the Ohio, in Cincinnati.

But the pros say tough fishing will make for a more suspenseful
showdown. “It’s gonna be a tough little tournament, a nail-biter,”
said Marty Stone, of Linden, N.C., who is looking for his first
Classic win in three tries. “I’ll tell you one thing, you’ll never
be out of it. On day three, you could come back and win this
thing.”

“We like that we’ll stay on the edge and be challenged,” said
Gerald Swindle, a five-time Classic competitor. “It means eight to
10 guys will still have a chance to win going into the third
day.”

Anglers will have 100 miles of water to cover on the distinctly
different rivers, including 31.7 miles on the Ohio, 14 miles on the
Allegheny and 41 miles on the Monongahela. All three carry heavy
barge traffic through a series of locks and dams that anglers will
have to factor into their fishing time. The bass breakdown in all
three rivers is more than 90 percent smallmouths, though the
Monongahela and the Ohio harbor largemouths, too, and some spotted
bass. Anglers can weigh up to five fish a day in any combination.
The top 25 combined two-day weights will determine who fishes the
third and final day.

This will be the first, and probably last, time Pittsburgh will
host a Classic, since the tournament moves to Lake Tohopekaliga,
near Disney World and BASS headquarters, in February. It also
represents a nontraditional market for the 35-year-old Classic, as
BASS reaches out to a broader base of fans. “It’s a new place,”
said Swindle, who pulls into tournaments with rap music pounding on
his subwoofers and 20-inch rims gleaming on his truck. “As poor as
the fishing is, a big city Classic means a new demographic.”

Three anglers with Pennsyl-vania connections will be competing.
They are Rookie of the Year Dave Wolak, of Warrior Run, near
Scranton; Ed Cowan, the BASS Federation national champ and semi-pro
angler; and Iaconelli, who grew up in Philadelphia fishing the
Delaware, which he still considers his home water, since he lives
in New Jersey. “I think we’re all going to have an edge,” said
Cowan, “since we’re used to these kinds of waters, and we know how
to deal with current, and we know how to deal with locks and
dams.”

Efforts are made to level the playing field by limiting practice
time to a week in June and one additional day, July 27, and
outfitting anglers in identical 21-foot boats with 225 horsepower
engines. Communications with local anglers or anyone who has fished
Classic waters became off-limits weeks ago.

Pennsylvania will be represented at other Classic week events.
Three boys, Zack Seal, 17, of McKean County, and Chad Dolby, 17,
and Adam Grube, 12, both of Clarion County, will vie in the Junior
Bassmaster World Championship for scholarship money.

Seal, who maintained a straight-A average at Ott-Eldred High
School while competing as a co-angler this year on the Wal-Mart FLW
and Everstart Series tours, will represent New York state, although
he lives in Pennsylvania.

Classic week also will give Bryce Bason, 10, of Mill Hall, the
chance to win college scholarship money at the Casting Kids
championship. This off-water event involves flipping, pitching and
casting to targets.

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