After a hiatus in 2009, the Bassmaster Elite Series will return to Thurmond Lake this week, when anglers from dozens of states will compete for a share of a $630,000 purse.
"Right now we have 93 pros registered," said Bassmaster publicist Doug Grassian. "And the first-place winner gets $100,000, like in the earlier tournaments."
Bassmaster held series events at Columbia County's Wildwood Park in 2005, 2006, 2007 and in 2008, when the pros and their amateur co-anglers landed 2,097 largemouths weighing 4,298 pounds, 15 ounces.
This year's "Pride of Georgia" event will include the popular outdoors expo Friday and Saturday, but there will no longer be a co-angler fishing with each pro during the first two rounds.
"The difference now is we have marshals in the back of the boats instead of a co-angler," Grassian said. "Based on feedback we got from the pros, they wanted it this way. From a competition standpoint, it puts them on a more level playing field."
After practicing today through Wednesday, the competition begins Thursday. After Friday's round, the field is narrowed to 47. On Saturday, the top 12 will qualify for Sunday's final round, in which a television crew will follow each boat.
Three previous winners of the Thurmond Lake event will compete this year, including 2008 winner Kenyon Hill, of Norman, Okla., and 2006 winner Davy Hite, of Ninety Six, S.C.
Hite said he is looking forward to another spring tournament with higher water levels than in previous years.
"Blueback herring will be the primary focus," he said. "What will be a little different is that the water is up. It will be quite a bit higher and stained more, and there's a lot more cover on the shoreline than there has been."
Hite expects the size and quality of the fish to be similar to previous tournaments -- 3 to 31/2 pounds on the average. A win, he estimated, will require daily limits weighing 17 to 18 pounds.
Weigh-ins will begin at 3:30 p.m. each day at Wildwood Park. The expo will begin at noon Friday and Saturday. There is a $5 per vehicle parking fee at the park entrance. Televised coverage will be featured on the tournament, airing at 10:30 a.m. June 6 on ESPN2.
SAFE BOATS: The Savannah River Sail and Power Squadron will offer free boating safety inspections this month in anticipation of National Safe Boating Week on May 22-28.
This year, for the first time, squadron inspectors will come to the boat's location on request to avoid asking owners to tow their vessels to a predetermined venue.
The safety check includes verification of required safety equipment and documentation, and inspectors are also available to discuss safety issues and answer questions. Boats that successfully complete a vessel safety check are awarded a completion decal.
No citations will be issued and owners will be offered a copy of the report. To schedule an inspection, call Edward Leibfarth at (803) 441-3999; Paulette Harris-Holmes at (706) 737-8113; or Butch Rachal at (803) 443-1983.
The Sail and Power Squadron also offers boating safety courses that cover seamanship, piloting, plotting, celestial navigation, engine maintenance, marine electronics and sailing.
For more information about the free boating safety inspections, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.