Fishing fans brave weather, flock downtown for Bassmaster Classic
BY RHETT MORGAN World Staff Writer
Saturday, February 23, 2013
2/23/13 at 7:10 AM
Watch videos and view slideshows: Watch a timelapse video of the launch. See a slideshow from the first day, and much more.
Follow along during the event: See unofficial estimates throughout Saturday
Tour the lake: Using Google Earth, World outdoors writer Kelly Bostian gives you a tour of Grand Lake.
Anatomy of a bass boat: We have an interactive map detailing the equipment on a bass boat.
The Bassmaster Classic went from a chilly early start on Grand Lake O' the Cherokees to anglers firing up the stage at the BOK Center on Friday evening.
About 2,000 fishing fans turned out at Wolf Creek Park in Grove to watch the world's top 53 professional anglers launch their chase for the $500,000 grand prize in the three-day event, which is presented by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa.
Camera flashes illuminated the predawn darkness as fans several rows deep craned their necks for a glimpse of their favorites. Among the crowd was Al Deets of Kearney, Neb. Neither the 8 1/2-hour drive nor the 23-degree 6 a.m. temperature seemed to faze him.
"Piece a cake, compared to Kearney," he said, laughing. "I don't even have a hat on. It's not that cold yet."
The setting was much warmer by the end of the day at the official weigh-in at downtown Tulsa's BOK Center. People also jammed the nearby Tulsa Convention Center for the event's Outdoor Expo.
Attendance numbers will not be released until the event is over, but Classic organizers were pleased with the early turnout.
"Just looking at everything and, with two hours left, we're starting to have one of our better first-day expos," said Eric Lopez, the Classic's director of operations.
Although the BOK Center wasn't at capacity, Lopez pointed out that it was a work day for most people and that kids were still in school.
"This is really a good sign for a huge weekend to come," he said.
An angler is allowed a maximum of five fish in the boat's live well at any one time, although many will catch far more than five fish. They release fish back into Grand Lake and keep their largest five.
At the end of the first day, Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., and Michael "Ike" Iaconelli of Pittsgrove, N.J., were tied for the lead with five-fish total weights of 21 pounds and 8 ounces each.
Hank Cherry of Maiden, N.C., was in third place with a 20 pound, 15 ounce weigh-in.
Park Hill's Jason Christie, one of the local favorites, was sixth at 18 pounds, 12 ounces.
The Classic field will be cut in half after two days for the Sunday finale, and the angler who turns in the largest cumulative three-day weight of fish wins.
Jeffrey Bishop of Tulsa said he's watched the Classic on television his whole life, so he wanted to come to the weigh-in and see it live.
"It was an opportunity to come down and see it firsthand, up close," he said. "This is quite an event."
Bishop said the tournament can only mean good things for the area.
"It's a good opportunity for Tulsa and the economy and northeast Oklahoma," he said.
Bishop said he fishes quite a bit at different lakes in Oklahoma.
"They picked a good spot" in choosing Grand Lake, he said, adding that he doesn't pretend to be on the same level as the pros. "I'm a rookie, a novice, compared to these guys."
Earlier at Wolf Creek Park, Leigh and Bruce Lee supported their son Matt Lee, a Classic competitor from Alabama.
"For him to get this spot is just a blessing," Leigh Lee said. "It's incredible."
At her feet was the family's chocolate Labrador retriever, who wore an orange-and-blue Auburn University sweater.
"I hope my son's as prepared as she is," Lee said of her dog.
The fishing extravaganza's venue brought back memories for Brian Pierce of Green Bay, Wis. He has family in Tulsa, and his grandmother had a cabin on Grand Lake that he frequented in the summers when he was a kid.
"This is the home lake for me," Pierce said. "So when I heard the Classic was coming, I knew I had to be here. ... To see it on Grand Lake at my first tournament ever - this is huge."
Troy Parrish and James King, both of Wagoner, stood at the rail Friday at Wolf Creek Boat Ramp. They are fans of Wagoner's Tommy Biffle, who is seeking his first Classic title after finishing as runner-up in 1990 and '94.
"It's a show," Parrish said. "I wouldn't have missed it for nothing."
Glen Cheatham of Grove said he showed up to see what the fuss was about.
"I wanted to see what was going on," he said. "This is a big deal, so I wanted to be here."
Chrissy Burks of Dewey said her husband is a bass fisherman but that she likes Classic entrant Iaconelli, the 2003 Bassmaster Classic champion.
"He gets super stoked when he catches a fish," Burks said. "He does flips in his boat. It's way cool."
At the BOK Center, Kevin Gabert of Kansas City, Mo., had a front-row seat near the stage for the weigh-in.
"It's the Super Bowl of bass fishing," he said. "To get to meet the other pros at the Expo, the past winners ... they are so approachable. It's unlike any other sport in the world."
By Friday afternoon, Gabert had coaxed a dozen professional anglers to autograph his cap. He also traveled the 90 minutes to Tulsa from Grove, where he had arrived at 4 a.m. to prepare for the launch in the frigid weather.
"That's part of the fun," he said. "You have to experience the whole thing, brave the cold like they do."
World staff writers Eric Bailey and Sara Plummer contributed to this story.
Here is the forecast for the Tulsa area during the next two days of fishing in the Bassmaster Classic.
Saturday: Morning low near 20, high near 47. Light wind, less than 10 mph.
Sunday: Morning low in the upper 20s; high in the low 60s. Afternoon winds southerly 10-20 mph.
Original Print Headline: Classic experience
Rhett Morgan 918-581-8395
Fishing fans watch Matt Lee and other anglers as they launch their bass boats onto northeastern Oklahoma's Grand Lake on the first day of the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
Mike Iaconelli shows off a fish during weigh-in at the BOK Center on the first day of the Bassmaster Classic. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
Tommy Biffle of Wagoner holds his cap over his heart for the national anthem at the opening of the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
Edwin Evers fights a fish on the first day of the Bassmaster Classic on Friday. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
Kevin VanDam holds up fish during weigh-in at the first day of the Bassmaster Classic on Friday. Tournament Director Trip Weldon (left) and emcee Dave Mercer stand by. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
The morning sun peeks over the horizon as Jeremy Starks takes off on the first day of the Bassmaster Classic. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World