Much like the Masters Tournament of early April, the Bassmaster Elite Series "Pride of Georgia" tournament kicks off this week with three days of practice rounds followed by some very focused competition.
With an expanded purse totaling $670,000, each of the 109 professional anglers scheduled to compete will be casting for the $100,000 first prize.
Mike McClelland, who won the 2007 tournament -- and is currently the points leader in ESPN's Angler of the Year competition -- is eager to fish the lake again.
"One of the keys to succeeding (on Thurmond Lake) is finding the baitfish and where the blueback herring are grouped together," he said. "Many people think it's necessary to "match the hatch" and mimic those baitfish, but once you find areas they are in, you can catch them pretty much anyway you want."
Thurmond Lake is the fifth stop on the 11-tournament trail that takes the anglers and their ESPN Expo entourage from Florida to Texas and Alabama and then on to South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Iowa and New York.
Wildwood Park and Columbia County, which are playing host to the event for the fourth consecutive year, will have more spectator events than in past tournaments, said park manager Jeb Bell.
The outdoor Expo, which will be open Saturday and Sunday, will feature, in addition to the usual lineup of vendors, demonstrations and concessions, a live musical performance at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday by Cherry Dillinger; a Berkley Beginner fishing class at 2 p.m. and a "Boat Performance with Skeeter" class daily at 2:15 p.m. On Saturday, fans can talk to the Elite pros during "Ask the Experts" at Bassmaster University presented by Comcast, set for 2:30 p.m.
After practice Monday through Wednesday, formal competition begins Thursday and runs through Sunday with daily launches at 6:30 a.m. and weigh-ins at 3 p.m.
The pros will fish with an amateur "co-angler" during the Thursday, Friday and Saturday rounds. After Friday's round, the field is cut to 50 pros and 50 co-anglers, with winning co-anglers determined at the Saturday weigh-in. The top co-angler prize is $25,000.
On Sunday, the top 12 pros compete in the final round, during which ESPN camera crews will follow the finalists while filming a one-hour highlight show that will air at 9 a.m. May 10 on ESPN2.
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BASSMASTER ELITE 'PRIDE OF GEORGIA' FISHING TOURNAMENT
PRACTICE: Monday through Wednesday
COMPETITION: Thursday through Sunday
LOCATION: Wildwood Park in Columbia County
OUTDOOR EXPO HOURS: Noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
WEIGH-INS: 3 p.m. each day
PARKING FEE: $5 per vehicle
FIRST PRIZE: $100,000
TOTAL PURSE: $670,000
PROS AND CO-ANGLERS: 218