More than 300 anglers will fan out across Thurmond Lake today for the first round of the four-day Citgo/ESPN Bassmaster Tour, whose winner will take home the $100,000 grand prize on Sunday.
The participants - 153 pros and a like number of amateur co-anglers - weathered three practice days of freezing temperatures and gusty winds in an effort to learn the lake.
As practice ended Wednesday, the fish appeared to be winning.
"I caught a couple, but it was hard, really hard," said pro angler Ish Monroe of Modesto, Calif. "The lake is beautiful - a lot like we have in California - but the wind made it tough."
Jim Barnes of Sylva, N.C., and fishing buddy Larry Bailey of Franklin, N.C. - both amateurs fishing their first pro tour event - agreed.
"About all we've learned so far is - it gets really cold here," said Bailey, who didn't catch anything Wednesday. "But I feel like a winner even if I don't catch anything. I'm just excited to be here."
Among the pros registered to compete are fishing legends Roland Martin and Jimmy Houston; Denny Brauer, one of the tour's top money winners; and Byron Velvick from ABC's reality show, The Bachelor.
"We're expecting it to be a great event," said tournament director Trip Weldon, who noted the last pro Bassmaster event at Thurmond Lake was held in 1973.
Weldon and other officials from BASS and ESPN greeted anglers Wednesday afternoon during registration at Columbia County's Patriots Park, which was packed with boats and big trucks.
Monroe said the weekend competition should be interesting, given the 70,000-acre lake's size and relatively minimal fishing pressure. "There will be plenty going on here," he promised.
Today's first round will pair each pro with an amateur co-angler, with a 3 p.m. weigh-in and other activities scheduled at Columbia County's Wildwood Park.
All anglers compete today and Friday, after which the field is narrowed to 12 semifinalists who fish Saturday, when a 3:30 p.m. weigh-in will determine the "Super Six" who compete in Sunday's final round.
The CITGO/ESPN Bassmaster trail is a series of events that will culminate at the Bassmaster Classic in Pittsburgh in July.
Last weekend, Zell Rowland of Montgomery, Texas, was the winner in the tour's stop in Lake Guntersville, Ala.
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Citgo/ESPN Bassmaster Tour and Outdoor Expo will be held this week at Wildwood Park at Thurmond Lake.
Elimination Rounds: Today and Friday, weigh-in 3 p.m.
Semifinals: 12 best anglers fish Saturday; weigh-in 3:30 p.m.
Finals: "Super Six" finalists fish on Sunday; weigh-in 3:30 p.m.
Outdoor Expo: Opens at noon Saturday; 1 p.m. Sunday