JACK WOLLITZ Stars come out for top tourney
Bass fishing's annual Big Show - the CITGO BASSMASTERS Classic - this year features a star-studded lineup, including ESPY award winner Kevin VanDam and Clevelander Frank Scalish.
VanDam, the Bassfan.com number one ranked bass angler in the world and defending Classic champion, last week added ESPN's ESPY award for top outdoor athlete to his bulging trophy case back home in Kalamazoo, Mich. He received his award alongside NFL star Marshall Faulk and baseball's home run king Barry Bonds.
"The coolest part of the whole thing was having John Madden hand me the award," said VanDam. "It is unbelievable to think I would even be here (in Los Angeles for the televised ESPYs), but to be the first time and the first winner (of the outdoor athlete award) is amazing."
Summer is generally the "off season" for professional bass anglers, but VanDam has been a busy man. He flew directly from Los Angeles to Lake Placid, N.Y., Thursday to compete in ESPN's Great Outdoor Games bass tournament and then will take a few days off before heading to Birmingham, Ala., and Lay Lake, site of the 2002 CITGO BASSMASTERS Classic July 25-27.
His rise to the top of the bass world has been remarkable. Just a few years ago he was a young angler from a northern state trying to chip his way into a sport dominated by southern fishermen.
And despite his accomplishments and crushing demands on his schedule of competitive events and promotional appearances, he has remained focused on important things like his family and fans. As a result of his fishing prowess and personality, his is as close to a household name as anyone's in professional fishing.
VanDam will be seeking to defend his Classic title against a strong field of 51 other top-notch anglers, including Frank Scalish. He's bursting with anticipation about the opportunity to fish the Classic.
"I'm so thrilled I can't stand it," he said.
After spending practice time on Lay Lake, Scalish is confident he'll be able to score well. "I figured out a few things that I believe will work down there regardless of what conditions we face."
He is quick to credit his success to the knowledge he gained fishing northeastern Ohio lakes like Berlin and West Branch.
"Ohio is a tough place to fish. As the lakes aged and the cover deteriorated, I learned how to make the off-shore bite work. I learned how to fish breaks, humps and other structure rather than relying on beating the bank," he said.
And he'll find plenty of structure - deep ledges for the most part - on Lay Lake to explore during the Classic.
Hotbed of fishing
Scalish isn't the only northeastern Ohio tournament competitor chasing a dream this summer. This area started to produce a number of anglers whose competitive instincts may very well propel them to pro-level success.
Mark Hull of Liberty recently earned a fifth place check for $4,000 in the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Circuit's co-angler division on Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay.
Dan Mansky of Youngstown just missed making the final 20 cut at the Everstart Series bass tournament June 26-29 on the Mississippi River in Minnesota. He was 34th and earned $1,000.
The event was won by Dave Lefebre of Erie, Pa. He pocketed $50,000.