JACK WOLLITZ Sport to crown a new champ
By this time next week, the sport of bass fishing will have a new world champion.
Forty-six qualifiers for the 2001 BASS Masters Classic will arrive in New Orleans on Monday to begin preparations for the title tournament, thus beginning the most important week on the annual competitive fishing calendar.
Over the past three decades, the BASS Masters Classic has evolved to major league status. Its winner is the reigning world champ and as such is the de facto spokesman for a multibillion-dollar industry.
Trying out products: While it is a big deal to tournament fans and pro anglers, the Classic also has a lot to do with "average" fishermen. The professional tourney trail is a proving grounds for tackle, lures, boats, outboards, accessories and related products. What works for the pros typically ends up on store shelves and showroom floors.
One of the 46 anglers competing this week out on the Louisiana Delta near New Orleans is Peter Thliveros of Florida. He is one of the pros who has helped bass fishing grow in the United States.
"I'm not surprised at the popularity fishing is enjoying," said Thliveros, who was the gold medalist in the recent Great Outdoor Games staged by ESPN.
"I think that the popularity has always been there, but it is enjoying more media attention.
"Bass fishing is a huge sport that travels through all economic classes, from the farmer to the president of a company, and there are no age limitations. I think that it on the edge of becoming very popular mediawise."
Thliveros can ill-afford to rest on the laurels he earned at the Great Outdoor Games.
Challenging tournament: "The Classic is going to be a tough tournament," he said. "It feels good going into it after last week's success, but the Classic will be tough physically."
The heat and humidity are grueling physical factors, but Thliveros and his fellow contenders also must deal with schedule demands that threaten to distract them from the task at hand -- catching bass in the thousands of miles of Delta canals, bayous and lakes.
The winner will be the angler who best focuses his efforts on the bass this week to figure out a bite that is predicted to be tough because of the unusual weather in that region this spring and summer.
And he'll be a hero for the next 12 months for hundreds of thousands of people who would trade places in a heart beat.
One hot summer: Louisiana is not the only hot spot in the United States this summer.
Ohio has had its share of brutal heat the past few weeks, and it's put a dent in the local fishing.
As always, however, somebody figures out a way to catch fish, as Warren brothers Nick and George Prvonozac proved July 14 and 15.
They won back-to-back tournaments on Mosquito Creek Reservoir and also claimed big bass prizes in both events. Altogether, they won more than $4,000 for their weekend of bass catching.
The Prvonozacs working top water lures early and flipped the weed edges and pockets as the sun climbed and both days sacked bass topping 4 pounds. In the two events, their total catch was more than 27 pounds, which is a handsome accomplishment considering the hot weather.
Elsewhere, the local fishing is decidedly slower as July winds down. The reservoirs' water temperatures are in the high 80s and the fish are not biting well during the day.
One alternative is Lake Erie, where the walleye action is fair to good and small-mouth bass fishing continues to be excellent.