It seems that with each Bassmaster Classic, there's the pre-tournament list of favorites populated by the usual suspects – Kevin VanDam, Aaron Martens, Gary Klein, Terry Scroggins.
Then there's the host of the "could easily do it" pros. Last comes the short list of unknowns – those who qualified through the
Bassmaster Opens, Weekend Series or Federation Nation and lack the pedigree needed for an in-depth scouting card.
But every once in a while the 'X-Factor' emerges – a relatively unknown angler who's often a local, but isn't given much of a chance, except for those in the know.
The most recent X-Factor was Boyd Duckett, who grew out of the Alabama fishing scene, qualified for, then won the 2007 Bassmaster Classic at Lay Lake.
A close second would be Terry McWilliams, who finished 4th at that same Lay Lake Classic, although nobody pegged McWilliams as an X-Factor (BassFan included) because he hails from Indiana.
What about the upcoming Red River Classic? There might be one angler who could become the X-Factor, and that's 40-year-old Mike Burns from Plano, Texas – a financial manager at Raytheon who won the 2008 Central Open points. Consider the following.
> Burns' home in Plano is only 3 hours from the Classic site at Shreveport, La.
> He was 6th after day 1 of last year's Red River Bassmaster Central Open, although he fell to 21st the next day and went on to finish 20th.
> He's got nothing riding on this Classic, other than the stoke-factor. He makes a comfortable living, fishes for fun, and doesn't feel any of the financial or career pressure that other full-time pros experience.
Does that make Burns the X-Factor? Perhaps.
Will Seek Same, Different
"I'd like to be a factor – you never know," Burns told BassFan. "Fishing against the top guys in the world is obviously a big challenge, but I know a little about the Red. I do get a little time on the river and I know my way around pretty well, but by no stretch am I a local expert."
According to Burns, last spring at the Red River Central Open, he was on good fish, but got hurt by crowds. So far, that's been the expectation for this Classic – that a wad of boats will find good fish, but those fish might last only a day or a day and a half. He also found some good fish the year before at the 2007 Red Open, but finished nine spots out of the Top 50 cut.
To help prevent another cover-up, he'll take a slightly different Red strategy into the Classic.
"I wouldn't say they're community holes, but there are some fairly well-known spots," he said. "Last spring, there were 30 boats in a couple of areas. With the (Classic) field of 50 anglers, I think some of those spots will produce pretty well. But after the last two tournaments there, I told myself I was going to make sure I have some spots like that – that are well-known where I can go and catch fish – but I'd definitely also make sure to have spots that are either far away or hard to get to.
"It's been my experience at the river that those (popular) spots are real god for 1 day, then you have to move on."
He thus has several out-of-the-way spots already scouted, he added, and he'll evaluate them again when official practice begins in a few weeks. "My strategy will be to have a bit of both – those spots that traditionally hold fish – and if they hold up for a day that's great, then I'll move on to lesser-known, more remote spots."
Overall, Burns has spent two full weekends and a few extra days at the Red since he qualified in November. Interestingly, those six practice days equal his total practice for the three-event 2008 Central Open season, when he won the points.
Burns (left) won the 2008 points race in the difficult Bassmaster Central Opens, and qualified for the Classic alongside Rick Clunn and Jami Fralick.
BassFan asked Burns whether he's thought through what Duckett accomplished in 2007, and whether he could do the same thing.
"I'm definitely going there with the full intention to do well," Burns answered. "I'll try to win it – that's definitely my goal. I know it's a steep hill, and it's a little bit tough for a rookie to come in and do some damage. But one thing that I definitely think will play in my favor is that fishing's a hobby for me.
"There's not as much riding on it for me. I noticed that at Texoma (the final Central Open) where I qualified for the Classic. A lot of the guys were nervous and worked up. But for me, it was just a day of fishing and not being in the office. That's how the Classic will be as well. It'll be a week off of work where I can go fish quite a bit. I don't think the pressure will factor in my fishing.
"I'm definitely thinking about it though," he added. "I'm spending a lot of time going through my stuff and getting it ready – trying to get organized. I've spent some time with maps so I can be as efficient as I can in practice. I wouldn't say I'm nervous, but I'm excited. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I feel like I do have a chance to do some damage if I get on the right fish."
> Along with the Opens, Burns fishes several circuits around the Dallas area, including Bass Champs. His team partner is his brother Rob, who also fishes the Opens as well as the Strens. Notably, Rob won the 2006 Stillhouse TTT.
> Burns has never attended a Classic, although he's watched it on TV every year and has followed the sport since the late-'70s.
> His family includes his wife Nancy, daughter Alex and son Ben.
> He's sponsored by Academy Sports, Skeeter, Yamaha, Falcon rods, Costa Del Mar, Big Bite Baits, Ande line, Daiwa reels and Fun-N-Sun Marine (Cleburne, TX). He inked the Academy, Skeeter and Yamaha deals recently.
> What do BassFans have to say? Anybody out there fished against Burns? Click here to sound off.