A new sponsorship deal will make the tournament rewards more lucrative.
By JACK WOLLLITZ
SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Fifty-two of the world's best bass anglers, including Cleveland's Frank Scalish, went through final preparations Wednesday for the CITGO BASS Masters Classic as Busch Beer announced a lucrative new sponsorship package for the BASSMASTER Tournament Trail.
The tournament began at dawn today on Lay Lake near Birmingham the day after Busch and B.A.S.S./ESPN announced a two-year deal that makes Busch the official beer of B.A.S.S.
Scalish said Wednesday that he was extremely confident his pre-tournament plans would hold together and net him a nice limit in today's first round.
"I'm very optimistic," said Scalish, a veteran of many years of bass competition around northeastern Ohio but a BASSMASTER Tour rookie. "I checked a couple of my spots Tuesday and found the good fish were still there."
Scalish planned to try to win the Classic, considered the world championship of bass fishing, by working water depths ranging from 10 to 40 feet deep.
"GPS will be very important for me," he said, referring to the global positioning satellite technology. "I need to be able to pinpoint my spots and get right on the break to catch these fish."
The 52 anglers in the Classic are faced with hot and humid conditions, with water temperatures approaching 90 degrees. That is coupled with the fact that hundreds of spectator boats will be following the more popular contenders, such as defending champion Kevin VanDam, Angler of the Year Davy Hite of South Carolina and Roland Martin of Florida.
One of the contestants is Randy Howell of nearby Trussville, Ala.
"Alabama has a huge fan base for pro bass angling and I've got lots of people pulling for me this year," Howell said. "I get letters and e-mails and it really gets me motivated and pumped up."
He's hoping the hometown advantage works for him this week.
"I am familiar with the lake's potential and the patterns that work this time of the year and that should help a bit," he said. "I really want to win this one more than ever."
Busch Beer, meanwhile, announced its sponsorship with B.A.S.S./ESPN and includes a sweeter reward system for the sport's top anglers in 2003. The Angler of the Year will earn a $100,000 bonus from Busch, compared to the $25,000 check Hite cashed this year. What's more, Busch will pay anglers down through 10th place in the season standings.
The Classic champion will be determined after three days of competition ending Saturday afternoon at the weigh-in at the Birmingham-Jefferson County Convention Center before a crowd of some 20,000 fishing fans. ESPN plans to provide updated coverage this afternoon, as well as Friday and Saturday.