Pundits' picks

Ed. note: In advance of each Fantasy BASS Fishing event, a cast of Bassmaster and BASS Times editors and writers — as well as a few Tour insiders — will weigh-in with their picks for the forthcoming tournament. Here's our experts' thoughts on the 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic. Build your Fantasy BASS roster today!

LAST EVENT — Although our pundits' picks for the the Tour's last stop on the Alabama River varied widely, there was little movement in our overall standings. That leaves just one more event — the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, August 1-3 — in which Dave Precht and Craig Lamb can knock George McNeilly out of the season-long Pundits lead. As for Matt Vincent, he's not mathematically eliminated from winning, but he'll need a hurricane-force effort — or a bona-fide tropical storm — to leap-frog his three prognosticating pals. See you on Bourbon Street, boys.

George McNeilly
BASS Communications Director
Events handicapped: 8
Anglers picked/average finish: 40 / 39th
Winners: 1 | Top 6 finishers: 8 | Top 12 finishers: 12

With the biggest prize in professional angling on the line, fans can rest assured that all 61 anglers in the field will be giving the event their all. But, only one can end the event holding the title of world champion.

width="200" alt="WXPort" align="right">Roland Martin, Clewiston, Fla. — The veteran of 24 previous Classics enters his 25th event coming off a great practice period. Martin loves the Louisiana Delta and has spent an incredible amount of time fishing it over his career. Look for him to make a run at ending his "Classic jinx."

Roger Boler, Slidell, La. — The hometown favorite knows the Louisiana Delta better than any other angler in the field. Boler has spent his entire life learning the ins and outs of fishing the massive fishery. No angler has ever won the Classic in his home state — Boler would definitely like to be the first.

Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich. — While a 13th place finish in the Busch BASS Angler of the Year standings would be the highlight of a career for many anglers, for VanDam it was below his expectations. The Louisiana Delta is where VanDam won the Classic crown two years ago. Look for him to have a strong finish once again.

Shaw Grigsby, Gainesville, Fla. — Fresh off his second straight gold medal at the ESPN Great Outdoor Games, Grigsby would love to claim his first Classic title. The Floridian has finished near the top in the Classic before.

Gerald Swindle, Hayden, Ala. — Swindle claimed a top-five finish the last time the big event was held on the delta, and he watched last year's event from the sidelines as it was held just down the road from his home. That adds up to Swindle being hungry for a top Classic finish.

prechtDave Precht
Bassmaster magazine Editor-in-Chief
Events handicapped: 8
Anglers picked/average finish: 40 / 43rd
Winners: 1 | Top 6 finishers: 8 | Top 12: 10

The 33rd CITGO Bassmaster Classic will also be the third world championship held in the Louisiana Delta below New Orleans. The gigantic web of canals, bayous, lakes and bays change almost weekly in their productive patterns, so the edge would have to go to anglers who are most familiar with the fisheries.

At least 18 contenders have fished one or two summer Classics in the Delta, including 1999 Champion Davy Hite and 2001 winner Kevin VanDam. In addition, four anglers live in Louisiana, but only one, Roger Boler, lives in the southern part of the state. If a tropical disturbance threatens the Delta, as one did in 2001, all bets are off. Otherwise, put your money on someone who knows the waters.

Roger Boler, Slidell, La. — Although he's only fished the CITGO Bassmaster Tour presented by Bush for only two years, Boler probably has spent more time fishing Delta waters than the rest of the field combined. He knows where bass should be at each stage of the tide, and he knows how to get there quickly. Never mind that he's never fished the Classic — Boler can handle the pressure. He finished the grueling 2003 Tour in fourth place in the Busch BASS Angler-of-the-Year race.

Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich. — The three-time Angler of the Year finished eighth in 1999 and won the 2001 Crescent City Classic. He can win anywhere, anytime he puts his mind to it. He can't wait to don another Classic crown.

Gary Klein, Weatherford, Texas — With a fourth-place finish in 1999, Klein proved he can compete on Delta waters. He's a master at putting together milk runs that pay off with heavy catches. Seventh on the all-time money-winning list (and fresh from victory in the 2003 Great Outdoor Games bass fishing competition), he wants a Classic win as badly as anyone.

Davy Hite, Prosperity, S.C. — If Hite is in the zone, as he was in New Orleans in 1999, and again throughout the 2002 Tour, he'll be hard to beat. He still holds the Classic winning catch record (for a five-bass limit) of 55-10.

Zell Rowland, Montgomery, Texas — Rowland has only competed in one New Orleans Classic; he finished 26th in 1999. But his name pops up frequently in a lot of the pre-Classic buzz this year. Call him a sentimental favorite, but give him good odds.

lambCraig Lamb
Bassmaster magazine Senior Writer
Events handicapped: 9
Anglers picked/average finish: 40 / 43rd
Winners: 1 | Top 6 finishers: 7 | Top 12 finishers: 10

It's too soon to tell, but a hurricane is virtually the only factor that could yuck up this year's CITGO Bassmaster Classic on the Louisiana Delta. Hurricane George came close in 1999, with Lili putting the severe hurt to the bass population in 2002.

High salinity levels resulting from severe drought and a subsequent void in aquatic vegetation contributed to the overall puny catch when Kevin VanDam won the 2001 Classic with 32-5. Now, the saltwater is back where it belongs and the weeds are growing again, meaning Davy Hite's 1999 winning weight of 55-10 could be eclipsed this go around.

Roger Boler, Slidell, La. — One of the highest ranking local pros in the point standings to qualify for a Classic, this Cajun's intimate knowledge of the maze of backwaters could prove beneficial if the popular areas get hammered.

Gary Klein, Weatherford, Texas — This 21-time Classic qualifier finished fourth in 1999 and posted a strong finish in the season's point standings. Klein has never won a world championship title but has come close on several occasions. Look for him to be on top of his game, possibly more than ever before.

Shaw Grigsby Jr., Gainesville, Fla. — The 21-year tour veteran placed sixth in the season standings and like Klein, is on top of his game going into the Classic. The Louisiana Delta, with its sprawling mass of skinny water, is a perfect match for Grigsby's status as bass fishing's guru of the shallows.

Jay Yelas, Tyler, Texas — Winning Busch BASS Angler of Year was the last thing on the mind of this year's defending Classic champion. Could lightning strike twice? It could if this laid back angler finds an offbeat location where the bass fishing is of world championship proportions.

Cole Garrett, Calvin, La. — Amateur Ben Curtis won the British Open at 500:1 odds. Could this also be the year for a Federation comeback? If so, the odds of a weekend warrior winning the Classic are even better, with Cajun Cole Garrett boasting of having caught a 15-20 pound limit in a half-hour during the scouting session on the Delta. Like fellow native Roger Boler, Garrett could have an unpressured go-to spot that pays big-time dividends. And in the process, he could become the first amateur to win bass fishing's world championship since 1994.

vincentMatt Vincent
BASS Times magazine Editor-in-Chief
Events handicapped: 8
Anglers picked/average finish: 40 / 48th
Winners: 2 | Top 6 finishers: 7 | Top 12 finishers: 9

It's been a long, hard road to New Orleans for the 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch (man, I think I'll have a) Beer. Maybe two beers when it's all over. Maybe three down on Bourbon Street when I'm off the clock.

Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich. — Obvious pick, I know. But how can you bet against the Kid from Kalamazoo who won the last Classic held on the Louisiana Delta? And even if he doesn't win his second Classic title in New Orleans, he's still got the best fishing commercial on television.

Takahiro Omori, Emory, Tex. — Winner of the CITGO Horizon Award, this Japanese native is always in the hunt. This past season he's proven himself consistent, adaptable and extremely talented, which is what it will take to win an event like this.

Gary Klein, Weatherford, Tex. — He's finished in the elite Classic Top 5 before. He's had a great year on the Tour. And this could be Gary's year to claim a world championship title.

Jay Yelas, Tyler, Tex. — Until this guy proves otherwise, he remain the hottest talent on Tour. So don't be surprised if he makes a run at back-to-back Classic titles to go along with his 2003 Busch Angler-of-the-Year trophy.

Mark Kile, Payson, Ariz. — My long shot for the 2003 Classic. Sometimes all it takes is a little taste of success for an angler to rise to the next level. And the 2003 CITGO Rookie-of-the-Year title might have been Mark's spark.