- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2004

MOUNT HOLLY, N.C. — Professional bass fishing’s version of a world championship will be decided in the Carolinas when the BASS Masters Classic comes to Charlotte from July30 to Aug.1.

Actually, the tournament site will be Lake Wylie, a bass-rich impoundment that straddles the North Carolina/South Carolina border, but the bass that are caught by the contestants will be weighed and tallied before thousands of onlookers at not-too-distant Charlotte Coliseum.

So if it’s true that this high-octane event is due to arrive in six months, how come so few people know about it?

Mention it to Lisa Webb, who works at the Mount Holly Waffle House that sees scores of fishermen stopping by to have breakfast before going to the nearby lake, and you’ll get a blank stare. When asked if she knew that the BASS Masters Classic was coming to Wylie, she looked perplexed and said, “What is it?”

Mind you, I didn’t ask the question in Manhattan or downtown Washington. No, it was posed in the bass-craziest area of North Carolina, in a part of the state where bass boats are almost as common as Dale Earnhardt car window decals.

At the local Food Lion store, Jim Fowler of Belmont, another town hard by the shores of Lake Wylie, said, “I heard something, but I’m not sure.”

Would he go and see some of the festivities that are part of the tournament?

“No, not really,” Fowler said — and he likes to fish.

At the Mount Holly Holiday Inn/Express where I stayed, desk clerk Patricia Smith, whose husband loves to fish for bass, had no idea the BASS Classic was coming to town. Shouldn’t somebody tell her? The local chamber and tourism people ought to welcome visiting bass fans. They can’t all stay just up the road in Charlotte; some will want to be near the water.

Clearly, the ESPN television-owned Bass Anglers Sportsman Society that sanctions the event is like Rodney Dangerfield. Thus far, it gets no respect here.

At Earl’s Bait & Tackle, a hop from one of Wylie’s biggest boat launching areas, Ken Hingle and his son, Scott, of Gastonia knew about the big contest, and they’re looking forward to it.

“It ought to bring lots of money for the hotels, motels and restaurants,” said the elder Hingle. “But it will also aggravate the locals because the lake will be crowded with those Classic fishermen and out-of-towners who’ll want to watch the contestants from their boats.”

Said E.J. Hill, whose father owns the fishing store, “The Classic might bring some business to our area, but it won’t come from the bass pros. They get their tackle free.”

The lake’s top bass fishing guide, Jimmy Drumm, said, “Actually, the Classic boats will be launched down the road in a South Carolina portion of the lake, but I guarantee you, the pros will be up here, fishing in these North Carolina waters.”

Drumm, too, was amazed that quite a number of lakeside residents have not yet heard about the most prestigious bass event in the land coming to their neighborhood.

It makes you wonder what the sponsors of the Classic are thinking about.

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