Hometown: Olney, Texas
Distance from Shreveport: 319 miles
Weaknesses: Locating fish
As winner of the 2008 Bassmaster Federation Nation Championship, Schmidt qualified for the Bassmaster Classic and had the opportunity to fish this year's Elite Series. He decided not to make the jump to being a tour pro and feels more comfortable taking the long road through the learning curve.
"I'm not quite ready for it yet," Schmidt said. "If I could ever get back to that level again, I would say, yeah I would probably do it. It's kind of like I was in the sixth grade and then I graduated from college."
In Schmidt's mind, even though he has had some success recently, he still has a ways to go to get to the Elite Series level and would prefer to progress through the Opens.
The Championship on Milford Lake, Kan., last November was hard on all the contestants, but with three fish weighing 9 pounds, 12 ounces, he outdistanced the field by over 3 pounds to qualify for his first Classic.
"The conditions were extremely tough with winds blowing 30-plus mph every day, and it was cold," Schmidt said. "There weren't many fish out there each day to be caught. If anyone ever asked me to go fishing in Kansas during November, I would tell them, no way!"
That said, he has always dreamed about fishing in the Classic, and now that the opportunity is here, Schmidt plans to make the most of it.
He's put some serious time on the river since he found out that he had qualified, driving over to Shreveport five or six weekends to familiarize himself with the water.
"I know the river well enough now and I have some good ideas for where the fish are going to be, so I'm going to spend time now locating fish," Schmidt said. "They will either be in late-winter or pre-spawn. The one thing I worry about is extremely cold weather.
"If they have started moving up and we have a severe cold front to knock them back down, then I might struggle. If we get a warming trend and the fish are moving up, then I feel like I'll know some areas that they are going to be."
Schmidt doesn't have much experience fishing rivers, but he has decided to approach the Red River with a different mindset that should help him handle the pressure of a big tournament.
"I'll be nervous, stressed, happy, having fun," he said. "I've never been at this caliber of an event. Never even as a spectator, so it will all be new to me. I'm going to try to take in every moment and have fun.
"I believe the fish will have moved out of the river and into the oxbows, so I'm going to attack it more as a lake/reservoir than a river, which should help me get into my comfort zone."
Being from Texas, Schmidt plans on having a big contingent of supporters at the Classic to cheer him on, and he has set modest goals.
"With $500,000 for first place and 36 of the world's best anglers, it's kind of hard to stay cool," he said. "My goal is to make it to Sunday — if I catch five a day and don't make it to Sunday, I'll still be happy."
Hometown: Monongahela, Pa.
Distance from Shreveport: 1,121 miles
Strengths: Reading water
Weaknesses: Throwing a spinnerbait
Baumgardner is the oldest (and most experienced) angler among the Federation qualifiers, a factor that he considers to be one of his strengths.
"The good Lord blessed me enough that I can read water well," Baumgardner said. "I've been fishing for a lot of years and I know what to look for."
That includes the Red River because after a successful scouting trip, Baumgardner seemed confident that he would perform well, even under the bright lights.
He spent 10 days on the river before the cutoff, and even though that was the first time there, he boated his first fish less than 5 minutes after launching.
"I actually just wanted to run the water and learn how to run a boat through some of those stumps," Baumgardner said. "I'm really pumped for this tournament because it really fits my style. It was nothing to get a limit each day (in practice) and the locals said it is only going to get better."
His main goal was to look for water that will be good come Classic time, which translated to much of his time spent idling. Baumgardner did manage to find some spawning flats that had old beds on them, so even if the fish aren't spawning, he said he should be able to track them to the ridges that they will be holding on.
In a bit of coincidence, that fish he caught during the first 5 minutes mirrors his pre-practice at the Federation Nation Championship, when he landed a 4-pound spotted bass in the first 5 minutes. The area he caught that fish ended up being critical to his qualifying for the Classic.
"In practice on Lake Milford, I was throwing tubes, but during the tournament I ended up catching them on a tube and spinnerbait," Baumgardner said. "The winds were atrocious. We only fished two days because they cancelled the second day — it was 50 mph winds and really cold and miserable."
Despite the conditions, Baumgardner was able to find a spot the size of his car on the final day, where he worked that spinnerbait for a Classic berth. He had considered spinnerbaits one of his weaknesses, but has shown recent success.
"At the Divisional on Kerr Lake, I won throwing a spinnerbait," Baumgardner said. "My buddy made me three spinnerbaits — I used one for each of the two qualifiers (to get to the Classic), and I'll be throwing the third in the Classic."
One factor that might determine his success more than the special spinnerbait is spectator traffic. If he gets in a crowded backwater or has to share an area with a popular angler like Greg Hackney, it might affect his pattern.
"The only thing that could really hurt me is if we get a lot of spectator boats banging on a lot of trees," Baumgardner said. "I'm kind of scared of that. I'm going to need to manage my fish right. I know there are going to be a couple of other contenders in there, but I know I can go in there the first day and catch a 20-pound sack, then I'm really going to have to manage those fish and defend the spot because it's a three-day deal."
That an angler from Pennsylvania can be confident so far from home can be contributed to his comfort on river systems. Fans of bass fishing may recognize his hometown of Monongahela, Pa., which is located near the site of the 2005 Bassmaster Classic. During that tournament, the contenders were allowed to fish the Ohio, the Monongahela and the Allegheny Rivers, water that Baumgardner is intimately familiar with.
That Classic in 2005 is actually a sore subject with Baumgardner, who was only half-heartedly trying to qualify, not knowing it would end up in his backyard.
This year he will get his chance to tackle a river during the Classic, and if confidence is any measure, expect to see Baumgardner on the leaderboard.
"I think I can win this Classic," Baumgardner said. "I'm not bragging or anything. I like flying under the radar, but in my heart of hearts, I think I can win this." [NEXT PAGE]