This year's CITGO BASS Masters Classic fulfilled its billing as bass fishing's pre-eminent event with something for everyone who enjoys the tug of a fish.
From its birth 32 years ago as the brainchild of bass visionaries Ray Scott and Bob Cobb, the Classic has grown to gain worldwide attention and today enjoys ever-widening audiences thanks to live and same-day TV coverage on ESPN.
But it is those who travel to each year's Classic venue who gain the most from the world championship bass tournament. Hosted again by Birmingham, Ala., this year's Classic was a kaleidoscope of sights and activities for fishing fans.
The Classic is a bass tournament, first and foremost. But it also has become the annual celebration of the sport - much like the Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four and the Daytona 500 are the highpoints on their respective calendars.
Bass fans can stroll the aisles of the Classic Outdoor Show. Their children can participate in a CastingKids outing and get autographs from the world's most famous anglers. Fans also venture onto the tournament lake and watch the contenders work the water.
And early each afternoon on Thursday, Friday and Saturday during Classic week, fans find seats in the host city's indoor arena and sit back to enjoy a show with live music, fireworks, special effects and 50 or so big-name anglers bringing their catches to the scales. It is, quite frankly, good show biz.
Birmingham had all of this and more last week as B.A.S.S./ESPN crowned another champion, Jay Yelas of Jasper, Texas. His name will be remembered as long as people fish for bass and his bank account will swell because everyone will want to buy what he uses on the water.
The Classic, of course, includes great new angling products, many of them offered to the public for the very first time at the annual show.
One of the more interesting lineups is offered by an Ohio company, ExtraEdge based in Dayton. The company markets bullet and drop-shot Scent Sinkers and The Dredge, a pre-rigged Carolina setup. Each features scent-holding inserts that add extra appeal to anglers' baits.
ExtraEdge's Mark Schneider has signed up Bernie Schultz, Skeet Reese and Tom Mann Jr. as pro staffers. Learn more at www.extraedgefishing.com.
Terminator and Strike King showed their new lines of soft baits molded out of tear-proof plastic. This is a major benefit for those who drag plastic worms, lizards and other creatures through brush and weeds. Terminator calls its baits SnapBack, while Strike King's line is called 3X.
The new baits can be used for an entire day and withstand limit catches before needing to be replaced with a fresh lure. Check the web at terminatorlures.com and strikeking.com.
A California company is pushing a new putty-like sinker material called Sticky Weight. Made of tungsten, it's completely moldable and can be formed as a split shot or barrel, as a nose cone to make bullet sinkers even more snagproof or to add weight to spinnerbaits and plugs. See dslextreme.com for ordering info.
Fishing electronics leader Lowrance showed off some nifty equipment last week on the CITGO BASS Masters Classic rigged Triton, Skeeter and Bass Cat competitors' boats.
Each featured a Lowrance LCX-15MT on the dash and an LMS240 on the bow. They were rigged to interface with each other and show GPS-generated information as well as sonar readings; all of this can be saved in the unit and transferred to a chip for analysis on your home computer.
Skeet Reese, a member of the Lowrance pro team, testified about the units' ease of operation.
"I'm not a rocket scientist, just a fisherman," he said in admitting he uses only a few of the equipment's amazing array of features. "Previously, you would see a blob and wonder what it was. Now you can see marks and recognize them as a rock on the bottom and a fish four inches off that rock.
"The new units are so effective in telling me what's down there that I feel like I'm cheating."