Angler Education

On Rookies, Vets And Repeats: Berkley Pros Prep For Classic

Their backgrounds are varied, their experiences and expertise, too; though each day finds them thinking about the same place. Lake Hartwell, site of this year's Bassmaster Classic, is never far from their minds.

Motivation is never in short supply when it comes to professional bass fishing's biggest event. At stake is a permanent place alongside the sport's legends as well as a degree of financial certainty that no other tournament can provide. But for Berkley Pros Boyd Duckett, Skeet Reese and Jay Fuller, the 2008 Bassmaster Classic is about more than fame and fortune. Each one is fishing for something more, something that can't be deposited in a bank account.

Duckett enters this year's Classic as the defending champion, the first-ever competitor to win in his home state. Despite five Top-10 finishes in 2007 his first year on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour post-Classic life was initially difficult for Duckett, due to the demands that winning the Classic puts on an angler's time.

To start the year with the Classic, there is only one week between the Classic and the beginning of the season. I lived through that last year and if you win it you don't have a chance to get ready for the next event. You're cooked (for the first regular-season event) if you win it, Duckett said. I'd love to have that problem again.

While repeat has been the mantra among his family and friends, Duckett is quick to point out the rarity of such a feat. Only Rick Clunn (1976, 1977) has ever pulled off Bassmaster Classic wins back to back. Despite the odds against it, Duckett's goal is add another Classic trophy to his mantle.

I'm fired up about the Classic, Duckett said. I'm going to try to win it back-to-back but there are a lot of other guys trying to win it, too. Like all events, five or six guys will really have a chance to win it, and it will be up to whether they handle their fish well enough and how they handle the pressure and the crowds.

Berkley Pro, Reese, was the next-to-last man standing. Reese rode his runner-up finish in the Classic to eight Top-10 finishes in 2007, winning Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Award, an award coveted nearly as much and in some circles more than the Classic.

The Classic is a Super Bowl deal, a one-time tournament and possibly a one-fish tournament, Reese said shortly after winning the Angler of the Year. A guy can win it with one fish. But now that we have 11 tournaments, you flat-out earn the Angler of the Year title.

But still, a Classic win to go along with his Angler of the Year is what Reese has been prepping for all winter.

If you're a competitive person by nature, especially in professional sports, everybody is trying to achieve that No. 1 position, Reese said. A lot of people work their whole lives to reach those goals, and most never reach them.

For Jay Fuller, the goal was to make it to the Bassmaster Classic. Qualifying through the Bassmaster Central Opens in 2007, Fuller has finally reached bass fishing's biggest stage, and the awe has not worn off.

It's very exciting for me, just a dream come true to be able to go fish the Classic. I really have to pinch myself sometimes still because I am actually going, Fuller admitted. I'm going to try to stay calm about it and go out there and do my thing fishing. It probably won't hit me until I'm out there and lined up with all the big names in bass fishing.

Preparations for the Bassmaster Classic come more easily to the two veterans: arrange hotel rooms for family and friends, secure delivery of boat and tow vehicle, finalize sponsorship agreements all the while juggling tackle preparation and research. But for Fuller, his sudden thrust into the spotlight has required a bit of a learning curve, not for his on-the-water activities, but for all of the business and personal aspects of the sport. Especially for first-time competitors, off-the-water preparation can be the difference in an event like the Classic. Adequate mental preparation, Duckett said, is key.

You have to eliminate all that static, eliminate all that rhetoric and fish relaxed. It's hard to fish relaxed when you don't know what it's going to be like when you walk on that stage and twenty thousand people are hollering. All of those little blips, when they happen, all that mind clutter keep you from making good, sound, on-the-water decisions, Duckett said. Somehow you have to overlook that.

While the pre-Classic storylines for the Berkley ® pros range from a possible repeat to a first-ever appearance and trying to improve on a second-place finish, reports from the anglers' pre-practice have a common theme: lots of fish. According to Duckett, Hartwell is a healthy fishery with plenty of 5- and 6-pounders among the lake's 55,900 acres. However, the biggest question going into competition remains the weather and the drought that continues to have a stranglehold on the region.

If the water temperature can climb two or three degrees, then I think it will be a good tournament. If we get stuck there in a full-on winter situation, it's going to be tough. The bass are going to be deeper in the 25- to 40-foot zone, Reese said. But from what I know of the lake there are some good, quality fish in there and we can expect to see some good stringers, 17-20 pounds a day to win.

As far as Reese is concerned, he'd like the fish to be shallow, something that will require warmer temperatures. Even though falling lake levels will keep him from fishing some structure, he feels that there is still plenty of water to be had that will yield quality bags. If the fish suspend and he feels that there is likely possibility that they will for at least part of the time Reese plans to use a Gulp! ® Jerk Shad on 10- or 15-pound Berkley Trilene ® 100% Fluorocarbon line, depending on the amount of cover in the water. In the ditches and around heavier structure, Reese said a PowerBait ® Football Jig on 12- or 15-pound fluorocarbon would be key.

A jig bite is music to the ears of Duckett and Fuller. Duckett won last year's Classic on Lay Lake with a big jig and a PowerBait Chigger Craw trailer. Fuller, who regularly employs a jig to catch bass on his home lake of Lake Texoma, considers it his strong suit.

In addition to tapping into the lake's healthy but unheralded spotted bass population for numbers with a new Classic bait, a Berkley PowerBait Hollow Body swim bait, Duckett said he plans on targeting Pre Spawn females on spawning flats with the big Berkley prototype mop-style jig and Chigger Craw combination. For these big jigs, Duckett will use an Abu Garcia ® Revo Premier spooled with 15-pound Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line and cast around stumps, rocks, boat docks and ledges any place that might hold a large, Pre Spawn female.

The very first full moon in March the females will begin to spawn at Hartwell. We will only be a few weeks from that, Duckett said. The (Pre Spawn) areas have changed some since the lake is down so far, so I hunted and found where I felt that they are going to spawn and found targets within those areas. I am fishing for 1-2 bites but it will be a 5 to 7 pounder. That's what I think I need to do to win it.

Fuller said he plans to use the Chigger Craw and the Berkley PowerBait Burly Bug as both trailers on his jig and as Texas rigs, relying on the Abu Garcia REVO reel - Fenwick ® Elite Tech rod - Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line combination to make the most of what he expects to be one or two big bites a day.

Even with their past tournament successes and goals already accomplished, the Bassmaster Classic maintains a power hold on the anglers, whether they're seeking a second title or a first; whether they've been there multiple times or just once. It's an event where boat operation, rods, reels, line and baits, keeping focused and conditioning all need to be perfect for three days. Great things are in store for the next winner and based on practice and their arsenal of new Berkley products each likes his chances.

I think everyone told me that I ought to be grateful that I am there and that I've accomplished a lot by being there but that's not good enough for me, Fuller said. A Top-10 finish would be successful, but I want to swing for the fences I want to come home as the next Bassmaster Classic Champ.