The 39 steps

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SHREVEPORT, La. — On Friday, the 51 anglers in the 39th Bassmaster Classic will take to the Red River in northwestern Louisiana in pursuit of $500,000 and the most coveted title in bass fishing.

Whether you've followed the run-up for months or are just now cramming for the weekend coverage, here are 39 facts to bring you up to speed.

1. The Classic is the biggest event in bass fishing. Past champion Mark Davis, who's fishing this tournament, says "history is made every time we fish a Classic."

2. Enter the counterpoint by angler Kenyon Hill. "Crying doesn't help anybody," Hill says. "Getting nervous doesn't help anybody. It's just another bass tournament, and you do the best you can."

3. Hosting its first Classic this year is the Red River, which isn't so much one straight, flowing body of water as it is a series of oxbows, ponds, backwaters, creeks and potholes formed over centuries by the meandering water. To reach many of the best fishing holes, anglers have to push their boats through shallow water and brush.

4. On that note, Aaron Martens says: "I want to win this one more than any other Classic because it's the Red River. It's going to be a tough son of a bitch."

5. The Bassmaster Classic is a three-day event with 51 anglers. Everyone will fish Friday and Saturday, but the field will be cut to 25 for Sunday's final. Anglers get just over eight hours of fishing time and can weigh in a max of five fish each day.

6. The winner of the Classic gets $500,000. The rest of the field splits $700,000, and nobody goes home with less than $10,000. Full payout

7. The favorite going into the 39th Classic is Louisiana's Greg Hackney, but pundits also seem to agree on perennial favorite Kevin VanDam and river expert Scott Rook.

8. Kevin VanDam is the consensus top angler in the world, and has finished in the top five in each of the past five Classics. That's a good showing in everyone's opinion except his own. "I think I've fished 18 of them now and I'm 2-for-18, which is not very good," VanDam said. "But this is a tough tournament to win."

9. The Red River went off limits on Dec. 15 to all the Classic anglers, but they had three full practice days over the weekend and a shortened one on Wednesday.

10. There are seven nonprofessionals in the Classic. Those spots are saved to give amateurs a chance to fish with the best in the biggest. Six are from the BASS Federation Nation tournament series and one is from the Weekend Series.

11. Everyone says it every year, but angler Mike McClelland makes a good point when he says this could be the year that another Federation Nation angler wins — which happened only one time, in 1994.

It comes down to boat traffic, largely. "A lot of the favorites have been picked," McClelland says, "but this is a body of water where you could put a guy on the right spot and he could shock you."

12. Speaking of, McClelland says his money's on Steve Kennedy. "A guy like that, who likes to get alone by himself, could do very well," McClelland says.

13. Kennedy will be spending plenty of time alone because he'll be fishing out of the slowest, smallest boat in the field, a little aluminum duck-hunting boat that he made tournament-legal by getting it wrapped just this morning. Rick Clunn also has an aluminum jet boat that he ran in practice.

Both of them, incidentally, got stuck in backwaters all the same.

14. Rick Clunn has fished (31) and won more Classics than any angler in the world. His four Classic victories double what anyone else has put together. They have defined his career.

15. Heavy boats displace more water and get stuck. Therefore, in a rarity, most anglers will be better off without a full tank of gas in their boats. Thing is, the maintenance crews automatically fill up the tanks unless asked to do otherwise. "I don't think enough guys thought of it last night to tell 'em," angler Bernie Schultz says. So some anglers may find themselves stuck in shallow mud because of poor planning.

16. Here's the rough guide to the pools on the Red. Everyone will have a shot at Pool 5. Many will lock one time and fish Pool 4. You gotta be either hard up or dead sure to head through another lock to Pool 3. Anything south of that, you're not only crazy, you're out of bounds.

17. To reach Pool 3, anglers will have to jet south and lock twice. The downside is, that commute will limit them to perhaps two hours of fishing. The upside is, they'll have it almost all to themselves. Angler Dustin Wilks says he saw four other anglers locking with him on the way to Pool 3 on Wednesday. That's about 10 percent of the field making that high-risk run.

18. Every angler will have an observer/marshal in the boat at all times to ensure all rules are followed.

19. Two-time Classic champ Kevin VanDam says he thought the winner this year would have to find some productive water all to himself. He's been searching for such a spot on the main river channel, of all places.

"I've spent a lot of my time looking for it," he says. "I haven't found it. Not the winning thing. But I've seen enough to know it's there."

20. There are seven former Classic champions in this year's field: Rick Clunn (1976, 1977, 1984 and 1990), Mark Davis (1995), Davy Hite (1999), Kevin VanDam (2001 and 2005), Michael Iaconelli (2003), Boyd Duckett (2007) and Alton Jones (2008).

21. Casey Ashley's dream spot would be a submerged tree in 14 feet of water. He says they're down there, in the mouths of oxbows.

22. The Bassmaster Classic is the only bass fishing event that provides same-day television coverage. The shows start on Saturday morning at 8 a.m. ET on ESPN2. See the full television schedule here.

23. All the Classic coverage will be on Bassmaster.com, including more stories than you can read and hundreds of photos. There will be three 24-hour live feeds and the weigh-ins will be streamed live on ESPN360.com.

24. The weather has been moody: warm all last week, hot on Wednesday, and headed for freezing temperatures each morning during the tournament.

25. The three-day record for 15 bass in a Classic was set in 2006 on Lake Toho by Luke Clausen with 56 pounds, 2 ounces. People who should know are saying the total weight record might fall on the Red River this year.

26. Judging by mood? Mike Iaconelli's been feeling pretty good this week.

27. Kim Bain-Moore became the first woman to qualify for a Classic by dint of her winning the points race in the Women's Bassmaster Tour last year, the first in which that tour offered a Classic slot to its champion.

28. Missing the Classic is a tough pill for Elite Series anglers who have been in the tournament in the past. Many of them wind up at the Classic anyway to fulfill sponsor obligations. Just a note: If you see Jason Quinn smiling this week, that grin had to be applied with a stapler the night before. Ditto Jeff Kriet, who after missing this Classic has vowed never to miss another.

29. Kriet said that at the annual Elite Night, at which anglers gather to honor the man who spent the past year whupping them. In this case, it was VanDam, who graciously said of his colleagues, "I feel honored to call them my friends."

30. One other dude who hates missing the Classic is Kevin Short. Lucky for us, we get to run his blogs anyway.

31. Fred Roumbanis, who has won almost $700,000 with BASS and has two big victories, is given 66-1 odds to win the Classic on sportingbet.com. "Will I get some sort of Pete Rose fine if I bet on myself?" Roumbanis asks.

32. If you're the sort of person who roots for home-state anglers, Hackney's your man. He's the only angler in the field who calls Louisiana home. Alabama has nine anglers in the field, Texas claims seven and Florida, six.

33. If it has happened on the Red this week, we have a photo of it.

34. The only Federation Nation angler to win the Classic was Bryan Kerchal, who won in 1994 and then was killed later that year in a plane crash. This year, a friend of Federation qualifier Ken Baumgardner reached out to Kerchal's father, who sent a letter of support and some signed items to Baumgardner. "I don't want to be better than anyone in the tournament," Baumgardner says. "I just want to be the best version of myself I can be."

35. This will be Gary Klein's 27th Classic and he has no victories. It's far and away a BASS record. He still remembers every close call, shoulda, woulda and just didn't.

36. Speaking of Texans with a great chance to win this thing: Does anyone know of a reason, other than his soft-spoken demeanor, why Todd Faircloth isn't considered a threat here? Just wondering.

37. Also, we're just going to state the obvious again, for people with no idea whom to pick: There's a reason Alton Jones won it last year.

38. Peter Thliveros, who has the record for most Classics (12) without a top-10 finish, said he had a good practice. "Best practice I've ever had before a Classic," he says, "for whatever that's worth."

39. And last, for the first time in years, anglers will be able to wear jeans (as long as they don't have holes) on stage when they weigh in, so Thliveros said he's going to spend Classic Eve shopping. "Fortunately for me, fat boy jeans only come in one style, and they don't have holes," he says.

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