Pro-level competition in the sport of bass fishing climbs higher this week as the inaugural postseason of the Bassmaster Elite Series gets underway in Alabama.
For fishing fans, the Sept. 12-18 Toyota Trucks Championship Week means a new high in the category of entertainment, whether they attend or watch at home. The drama is already building in the race for the 2009 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title and its $200,000 prize.
All postseason events are free and open to the public. Here's when and where fans can watch in person or online and on TV:
Sept. 12-13 Berkley Powerbait Trophy Chase: (All times are ET below)
5 p.m. The competition on Lake Jordan will begin each day when the 12 competitors launch their wrapped bass boats from Libby's Place at Lake Jordan Marina, 789 Lakeland Drive, Titus, Ala.
5:15 p.m. Weigh-in festivities each day will be in the parking lot of the Wetumpka Civic Center, 410 S. Main St., Wetumpka, Ala.
Sept. 17 Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph:
7:15 a.m. The final two days of competition will begin Thursday, Sept. 17, when the pros take off from Riverwalk Amphitheater, 355 Coosa St., Montgomery, Ala.
3 p.m. Bassmaster Outdoors Expo, featuring the Evan Williams Bourbon BBQ Contest, and many other booths and vendors.
5 p.m. Weigh-in begins at the Riverwalk Amphitheater
5 p.m. Online at ESPN360.com: live, streaming video of the weigh-in
5 p.m. Online at www.Bassmaster.com: real-time leaderboard
Sept. 18 Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph:
10 a.m. The pros take off from Riverwalk Amphitheater, 355 Coosa St., Montgomery, Ala., for the final day of competition
3 p.m. Bassmaster Outdoors Expo, featuring the Evan Williams Bourbon BBQ Contest, free samples of Evan Williams bourbon, and many other booths and vendors.
6:30 p.m. Online at www.Bassmaster.com: "Hooked-Up," a live show hosted by ESPN Outdoors personalities Mark Zona and Tommy Sander, will precede the weigh-in.
7 p.m. Finale weigh-in begins at the Riverwalk Amphitheater
7 p.m. Online at ESPN360.com: live, streaming video of the weigh-in
7 p.m. Online at www.Bassmaster.com: real-time leaderboard
Immediately after weigh-in: the Zac Brown Band in a free concert.
Throughout the event on www.Bassmaster.com:
Kyte, a new reporting technology, will be used to bring almost-live video reports from the water and event site to viewers.
BASSCast: On-board cameras capture every cast.
BASSTrakk: Unofficial reports of catches and estimated weights as the competition takes place
*Each day, all day: www.Bassmaster.com will present extensive photo galleries, analysis, features and standings.
Sept. 27, 5-7 p.m. ET on ESPN2: "The Bassmasters" will cover the two postseason events, start to finish.
What fans will be watching and experiencing is a first in the sport's history: the top 12 Bassmaster Elite Series pros up against each other in back-to-back tournaments, the prize being the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year crown.
The winner's take of $200,000 is just part of the $499,500 purse.
The competition for the 2009 AOY title will start out as a tight points race. Setting out with points earned during the regular Elite season, each of the 12 postseason qualifiers will attempt to amass more points from each tournament. Points will be awarded on a sliding scale that starts with 50 points and ends at 10 points for each competition.
HOW SKEET AND SWINDLE COUNTED DOWN
How does a Bassmaster Elite Series pro count down the jittery days until he competes in the Sept. 12-18 Toyota Trucks Championship Week postseason?
If the pro is Gerald Swindle, elk hunting is the way to unwind and rewind. If the pro is Skeet Reese, it's car racing.
Swindle, from Warrior, Ala., flew to New Mexico for a seven-day bow hunt for elk, arriving home Sept. 8, just one day before he was due to arrive in Montgomery, Ala., for the postseason's two tournaments.
"Tags are by lottery, and I'd been putting in to win this tag for five years," Swindle said. "I didn't get an elk, but this hunt wasn't about that. This was a hunt to see if you can survive seven days in the mountains. I wanted to do it to see if I had it in me and I did it."
He said didn't consider postponing the elk trip because of the postseason.
"It gave me seven days to be away no cell phones, no nothin' where you can sit and get your mind in a whole new place," Swindle said. "It was a calming effect. A lot of time I would sit and think about tournaments and what was in front of me, what I needed to do. It was a good frame of mind to get into."
Reese, who lives in Auburn, Calif., rubbed elbows with stars from the Indy Racing League when it stopped Aug. 23 at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma.
Reese experienced the race in a way every race fan dreams of: a VIP all-access pass. So what did Reese have to do for the exclusive access? Take IRL officials fishing on California's Clear Lake.
About his day at the track, Reese related on his Web site, www.skeetreeseinc.com: "We watched them bring the cars out, set up the pits and got to stand on pit row with the drivers and officials for the National Anthem. I looked around and saw (Marco) Andretti, Danica (Patrick) and (Tony) Kannan as the anthem was sung, then they told us to get behind the wall because the race was about to start; a couple of minutes later, they were on the track, it was amazing."
SIT IT OUT? NO WAY
Two anglers entered in the Sept. 10-12 event of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Women's Tour had jaw-dropping stories to tell before the event began.
Debra Hengst of San Antonio, Texas, and Sharon Rushton of Kimberling City, Mo., were on Old Hickory Lake out of Hendersonville, Tenn., early this week in prep for the final event of the regular BWT season.
In early January, Rushton was forced to set her fishing aside to fight ovarian cancer. After extensive surgery and chemotherapy, Rushton, who isn't quite 100 percent, feels fit enough to fish the Old Hickory event as a co-angler.
"Mentally, I'm so pumped to be back on the water competing," she said as she practiced Tuesday on the water with Hengst. "I'm going to use every bit of energy I have to catch fish. I get tired, so I have to watch my energy."
Hengst, who competes as a pro, was out on Old Hickory on Sunday, before Rushton arrived. Hengst pulled up to a dock, tied up and left the boat for a few minutes. When she returned, she jumped back into her boat and was unwrapping her burger when she heard the roar of a boat engine.
"I twisted my body around my back was toward the bow of the boat, which was facing the ramp and all I saw was the bottom of this boat coming over, at and over, the top of my boat and me. I literally pushed forced the boat away from my boat with both of my hands and arms," she said.
Banged up, Hengst wasn't about to pull out of the tournament. After a day of rest, she decided to continue practicing for the tournament.
Hengst is among the WBT pros hoping to pull into the top 20 in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Women's Tour Angler of the Year race. She is 43rd going into the Old Hickory event, but the WBT rule of dropping the lowest tournament could boost her higher.
After the Old Hickory event, the top 20 anglers from both the pro and co-angler divisions will qualify for the Oct. 16-18 Academy Sports + Outdoors WBT Championship on the Red River out of Shreveport, La.
From the championship one pro will emerge as the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Women's Tour Angler of the Year, which comes with two big prizes: a 2010 Tundra and a berth in the 2010 Bassmaster Classic. She will be only the second woman to compete in a Classic.
SPOTLIGHT ON CONSERVATIONISTS
BASS Conservation Director Chris Horton has been selected to serve as a judge in the annual Field & Stream Conservation Hero of the Year award.
The grand prize for the winning 2008/2009 Heroes of Conservation project will be a Toyota Tundra. Five runner-ups will each receive $5,000, and all nominees featured in the magazine will receive $1,000. The nomination process has closed and the winner will be awarded at a September Gala.
"There are so many 4- and 5-pound spotted bass it's unreal. A lot of guys will have 20-pound bags, so it's going to come down to who has that one or two key bites that put him over the top." Bassmaster Elite Series pro Greg Vinson of Wetumpka, Ala., describing Lake Jordan, where the postseason's Elite 12 will compete Sept. 12-13.