By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The nearly four dozen tour-level anglers competing in the Bassmaster Classic all have a single purpose this week – winning the sport's premier event. The six competitors who qualified through the B.A.S.S. Nation aren't quite so unified in their approach.
Two have significant experience fishing at this level and have come in with a results-oriented mindset. The other four – while badly wanting to make a good showing at Lake Guntersville – fall more into the "really happy to be here" category.
One of those is in the latter group is Doug Thompson, the Central Division representative from Mabelvale, Ark.
"I've had a good time just rubbing elbows with the best of the best," he said. "I've enjoyed getting to see how the Elite guys live and how they operate.
"Fishing-wise, my goal is to make the cut (the field will be reduced to the Top 25 for the final day). "That kind of leads to other goals, but that's the main one."
In It to Win It
Alabama's Coby Carden, the Southern Division qualifier, was a tour pro for several seasons a decade or so ago. He's enjoying the peripheral fruits of his first Classic, but fully expects to be in contention.
"I fell blessed to be here and I'm really excited about it," he said. "But being a competitor, my goal is to win the tournament. Anything less than that will be a disappointment from that standpoint, but never having had the experience of making it here before, it's kind of a win-win for me."
Indiana's Mark Dove is here for the third time as a B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier, including the last two in a row. He finished 36th in last year's Classic at Oklahoma's Grand Lake.
Central Division winner Doug Thompson of Arkansas will be pleased if he can advance to day 3.
"I would say that I'm more relaxed than I've ever been for one of these," he said. "Last year I thought I did pretty well, but it was a late-morning bite and when I had no fish at 10:30, I started thinking about how I was going to get dragged through an arena with 10,000 people and I wasn't going to have anything (to put on the scale).
"I don't think that (concern) is too probable this year because I think I'm going to catch some a little bit earlier. I may catch them big or I may not. I'm just going to go fish and see what bites and not worry too much about it."
Crochet's Comedy a Highlight
Two of the B.A.S.S. Nation qualifiers mentioned that one of the highlights of the week has been listening to Louisiana Elite pro Cliff Crochet tell humrous stories in his Cajun style.
"I've learned that he's a really funny dude," said Eastern Division qualifier Paul Mueller of Connecticut. "I think he could give (Gerald) Swindle a run for his money."
Added Western Division representative Tim Johnston of Montana: "My wife and I had dinner with him and I've never laughed so hard in my life. Being a competitor in the Classic gives you access to these people, and then you find out what the real person is like. I've become a fan of a lot of them – not only because they make the sport what it is, but they also make it fun."
Jeff Lugar, a Virginian who topped the Eastern Division, has enjoyed discovering that the Elite pros are similar in a lot of ways to passionate anglers everywhere.
"I grew up watching the Classic and following tournament fishing, and to see all the pros like (Kevin) VanDam and Skeet (Reese) and (Mike) Iaconelli interacting with each other the same way the guys in my club do back home is something that you don’t see on TV. Of course, they're above average in their fishing ability, but when they're in their element, they're down-to-earth, normal folks like you and me.
"That's been a real eye-opener for me."