The CITGO Bassmaster Tour pros come from all walks of life. Chances are, though, that Chris Bielert comes from a faster lane than most.
The 32-year-old Tour rookie from Connecticut comes to professional fishing from the world of racing. More specifically, he was in the specialized world of engine building.
For 10 years Bielert worked in an engine shop in Bristol where he built the power for Busch Grand National and NASCAR Modified cars. When the other guys in the company moved to Charlotte to work in the middle of the racing scene, he took it as the perfect opportunity to launch his second career.
"I was a gearhead in high school and loved racing cars," Bielert said. "Most kids were out carousing, I was out drag racing on the street not that that's a good thing.
"I worked in a shop that built motors for a specific core of guys probably about 35 guys in the Northeast who race different series like Busch North and NASCAR Modifieds. Some of the guys you may know are working in NASCAR now like Steve Park, who's from Long Island, or Greg Zippadelli, who's the crew chief for Tony Stewart.
'But I always knew this was the direction I wanted to go in. Fishing is where my heart is. When I was building engines, I never took my eye off of this career. In fact, one of the reasons I stayed so long in the engine job was because I could work all of my hours and then take time off to fish."
Bielert has enjoyed a lifelong obsession with fishing.
"Ever since I was a kid 5 or 6 years old I've been fishing," he said. "There was a little park pond within walking distance of my house, and every day after school I would grab my pole and my tackle box and go to the pond. That's where I spent all my time. Fishing is all I've ever wanted to do since I was a little kid."
It may not be as fast paced as his former occupation, but Bielert has been impressed by the level of competition at the Tour level.
"My rookie season has been difficult, to say the least," he said. "I got a check in the first one at Toho and finished 60th. I didn't do well at Harris and struggled at Guntersville, although my [Purolator Big Bass award winning] big fish was a bright spot. I just missed a check at Clarks Hill by finishing 80th.
"The competition is fierce, but the guys have been really great to me.
"My goal was to try and shoot for Rookie of the Year and make the Classic. Those are lofty goals, but you've got to set lofty goals or you never accomplish anything."
After five events, Bielert is 10th in the Toyota Rookie of the Year standings and 118th in the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. He finished 80th last week at the Tour event on Lake Norman in the Charlotte area, where NASCAR is king.
He should have felt right at home.
Three-time CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year Mark Davis knew that the 2005 Tour season was going to be a challenge after undergoing major shoulder surgery in the fall, but the Arkansas pro has been enduring both a bigger physical hurdle and a longer slump than he expected.
"The shoulder is getting better every day," said Davis, 41. "When we started out in Florida it was stlll too early, and I had a lot of pain and limited movement with it, but it's getting better with each tournament.
"I'm out of synch and not fishing well. A lot of it is mental, and it's just going to take some time. I've actually found a few fish in the last two tournaments, but didn't catch them. There were some bad decisions, and when those type things are going on it's mostly mental."
Early in the season, Davis' pain kept him from being able to perform certain techniques with much proficiency, particularly his favorite power-fishing tactics. At last week's Tour event on Lake Norman (where he finished 55th), he said the pain was merely discomfort, but it still interferes with certain techniques.
"When you start avoiding things, you start changing the way you fish, and that kind of gets in your head a little bit," Davis said. "I think that's been my biggest problem."
The former Classic champion is glad that he has a "second shot at making the Classic" through the upcoming Bassmaster Elite 50 Tour season. "I'm just trying to get myself in the right frame of mind and get out of this rut put all that behind me and focus on the E-50s."
Al St. Romain, a legend in Louisiana bass circles and an early BASS competitor passed away recently. He was 67.
St. Romain qualified for the inaugural CITGO Bassmaster Classic at Lake Mead in 1971, where he finished 16th. He cashed a check in three of the four BASS events he fished in 1970 and 1971.
Greatest Angler Debate
Former Classic winner Woo Daves was one of the 35 candidates for the ESPN Outdoors' Greatest Angler Debate presented by John Deere. Inside BASS asked him whom he would vote for as the best of the best.
"I'd vote for Mark Davis," he said, "because he's consistent. He's got titles in every division, and he's an all-around fisherman. He does it every way. He's not set on one thing. He's not a flipper. He's not a crankbaiter. He's not a spinnerbaiter. He does it all. He's not just a sight-fisherman, either, but he can do that, too.
"I think you ought to be well-rounded and versatile to be considered the best angler."
In April, Greatest Angler Debate programming will begin on ESPN2 as part of BASS Saturday. The programming will feature biographical shows on the top 10 anglers as well as debate programs featuring fans, the media and professional anglers. Fans will find stats and stories in the pages of Bassmaster Magazine, BASS Times, Bassmaster.com and on the weekly ESPN Outdoors radio show. In June and July, the debate will heat up again as the fans choose between the top two anglers during a second round of voting on Bassmaster.com.
The debate will conclude in Pittsburgh at the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Classic when two champions are crowned. One will be given the Classic trophy and the other will be hailed as the greatest angler of all time.
Two-time BASS winner Tommy Biffle had a unique answer to the question we've been posing to the pros: What is the weirdest thing you've ever caught?
"I caught a duck one time at the front gate to Disney World," the Oklahoma pro said. "We were fishing one of the lakes at Disney, and this duck was over on the bank. When I made a cast with a Spook, it happened to fly out across and hit the Spook when it went by. I had to unhook it, but the duck was fine.
"No, it wasn't Donald."
Did you know?
Tim Horton holds the dubious distinction of having turned in the worst Bassmaster Classic performance by the reigning Angler of the Year. After posting the most dominant Angler of the Year performance in BASS history, the Alabama pro finished 46th dead last in the 2000 Classic in Chicago.
Florida's Chuck Economou will celebrate his 49th birthday on March 27th, while Curt Lytle of Virginia is 35 on March 28th.
If I hadn't become a BASS pro...
Japanese pro Kotaro Kiriyama might still be working in Manhattan as a language translator.
They said it
"I never really thought I would see this day. We've always heard people ask if BASS was going to be like NASCAR and the PGA, and the answer was always 'no,' but I'm not so sure anymore. The way they're going about it, we may not get that big, but I think we're going to see a quantum leap in the next five years more than anything we've seen before."
Veteran Texas pro Alton Jones is an enthusiastic supporter of the changes and expanded schedule for the 2006 Tour.
Tim Tucker's Pro Angling Insider is a bi-monthly newsletter with an annual subscription rate of $39.95. It can be ordered by calling toll-free 800-252-FISH. A sample issue can by seen on his Bass Sessions web site, www.timtuckeroutdoors.com.