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Classic pros find plenty to talk about during final practice, media day

Michael Iaconelli signs autographs and visits with reporters during media at the Citgo Bassmaster Classic. 

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — While the casts didn't count on Wednesday, they were plenty important to the 51 contenders in the 36th annual CITGO Bassmaster Classic because they gave the anglers a good indication of what to expect when the competition kicks off Friday.

What the Classic pros found during Wednesday's lone practice round in the race for the $500,000 top prize and most important title in fishing has them eagerly anticipating Friday's opening bell.

But first, the Classic pros will attend Media Day on Thursday, answering the questions of more than 200 accredited media members from around the world. Judging by Wednesday's practice, the contenders will have plenty to talk about.

The pros reported seeing a bevy of big females up shallow and accessible on spawning flats in Lake Tohopekaliga and the rest of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. "I think at least the first day, the fishing's going to be awesome," reported Preston Clark, one of two Floridians in the Classic field. "Everybody's doing the same thing — just standing on the trolling motor and looking at them.

"I've got two spots holding more than 20 pounds. I should be able to throw an anchor out and be able to catch 20 pounds — if no one else finds them, you know. They're all 4- and 5-pounders. I saw one a little while ago that was about 9 pounds."

Defending Classic champion Kevin VanDam — who's the top ranked Elite angler on the Bassmaster Elite Series Power Index — is excited about what he discovered Wednesday.

"I had a great practice day," he said. "It's not so much what I caught, but what I learned today. I saw a lot of fish. There's a lot of them that moved up to spawn, no doubt. It should be a slugfest."

Dean Rojas, who enjoyed a record-breaking performance on Lake Toho in January 2001, might have been the most animated angler of the day.

"It was a very entertaining day," said Rojas, who caught a record 45-pound, 2-ounce, five-bass limit on the opening day of a 2001 BASS tournament. "The bass are everywhere, but it's hard to find a big one. You can go in an area and cast in any direction and catch a bass.

"If the weather doesn't change, the fish are going to keep coming in," he said. "They're in full swing right now. Everybody's going to catch them; it's just going to be a matter of who catches the bigger bag."

Two-time Classic winner George Cochran said he didn't see any bass on beds. But, then again, he wasn't looking for them. Sight-fishing isn't the veteran Arkansas pro's style. "I'm just fishing the way I like to fish, fishing shallow weeds and covering a lot of water," he said.

"I probably caught 15 fish. I probably caught 14 or 15 pounds, and then I took (the lure) away from a lot more of them. I think it's going to be a pretty good tournament if the wind doesn't blow really hard."

California's Mike Reynolds also chose to flip in heavy cover instead of seek out visible bass. "It was pretty tough for me," he said. "I had four bites and shook off a good one. I did a lot of looking around. The water temperature is up about 10 degrees from last week, so I think the fishing's going to be pretty good."

The casts official begin counting after the 6:40 a.m. launch on Friday when the anglers leave from the Big Toho Marina at Kissimmee's Lakefront Park. Fishing fans can attend launch for free and visit the Johnsonville Big Taste Grill, which is distributing 1,000 of their famous brats beginning at 5:45 a.m. ET.