KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Fans will gather in the early hours of the morning today to watch 52 anglers peel off and compete for a $1 million purse after three days of competition.
Area marinas and launches will be teeming with fans from around the region following their favorite pros on the water in a front-row seat.
Competing at this level takes drive, several of the pro anglers said during Media Day held on Thursday.
“You gotta be so ate up with it you’re willing to be out on the water all the time,” said Clifford Pirch, an Arizona resident who began competing full-time about 15 years ago.
The top angler will take home $300,000 at the Classic, and a new structure means a larger gap between entry fees and payouts.
“Some changes in the industry have made things more beneficial for fishermen,” said Pirch. “Bassmaster has made some positive changes, and the economy is going well, and you have a tournament organization making things go well, so it gives a lot of momentum.
The thriving economy helps in terms of attracting sponsors, said Drew Benton, 30.
“The sponsor side is the only way we can do this full-time,” said Benton. “We’re paying our bills chasing after a wild creature, and things are not going to go your way 100 percent of the time.”
Benton is not only competing against guys he grew up watching fishing on the Bassmaster Classic on TV, he’s also up against a younger crop of competitors.
“It’s an exciting time,” said Benton. “There are more circuits today at a younger level. Anglers in college, high school, are all hungry. They’re chomping at the bit to get to this level. That’s the exciting thing about this sport. Guys are retiring every day, but we’ve got more coming in than are retiring every day.”
College tournament circuits at this level are relatively new, and high school tournaments are even newer, Benton said.
“That in itself is huge,” he said. “Think about how much more into you get by starting off young. There’s no organization but B.A.S.S. that has that at the high school and college levels, and the grassroots organization to get to this level. B.A.S.S. has the biggest following with 500,000 members. That is huge.”