2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic was a huge success
Mike Norris Outdoors - March 2, 2006

It made sense to move the CITGO Bassmaster Classic from mid-summer to late winter, when more anglers are glued to their televisions and chomping at the bit for warmer weather to go fishing.

And why not start the competitive BASS tournament season off with a big event, just like NASCAR does with the Daytona 500 at the start of the racing season?

Well, if ESPN Outdoors was looking to hit a home run, they may have done so with the airing of the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic, held on Lake Topopekaliga near Kissimmee , Fla. , last weekend.

Although held in Florida , West Coast angler Luke Clausen won the 36th annual competition. The 27 year-old Clausen took home a $500,000 first-place purse after weighing in a three-day total of 56 pounds, 2 ounces, a new BASS record for total weight for the Classic.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet, said Clausen, who was the youngest Bassmaster Classic competitor in this year's tournament field. "It's like you're in the middle of a dream."

Clausen's biggest career win centered on fishing isolated vegetation in 3 to 4 feet of water in the southeastern corner of Lake Kissimmee . He said he fished a 6-inch, junebug-colored Mann's HardNose worm along the lake bottom.

"I probably had the strongest area of the lake, and I understood it better than the other competitors, Clausen said. "That was why I won."

So where does BASS go from here?

Lake Amistad in Texas is the site for the first of 11 regular-season tournaments BASS has dubbed as the Elite Series. From all reports, we may see bigger weights there.

Although the tournament doesn't take place until March 9-12, Elite Series pro Zell Rowland is predicting Lake Amistad will be the greatest tournament in BASS history and said the four-day BASS record for heaviest weight "is toast."

Outdoors Notes

Previous CITGO Bassmaster Classic winner Mike Iconelli (2003) had his first day weight disqualified after a livewell malfunction caused two of his bass to expire. Upon the discovery of the lost fish, Iconelli used profane language and further vented his frustration on the Classic-equipped Triton bass boat.

Last Tuesday, Iconelli apologized to his fans, BASS officials and his sponsors, but it may have been too late. In a statement released earlier Tuesday afternoon, Ranger Boats said they were withdrawing their sponsorship and affiliation with Iconelli, believing that his conduct during the tournament did not represent the values on which Ranger was built and continues to operate. • After a 2½-month hiatus, the Illinois Walleye Trail resumes competition on the Illinois River launching out of Barto Landing in Spring Valley today. This team walleye and sauger tournament circuit pays out $3,500 for first place based on a 100-boat field.

For more information, go to www.prairielandeyes.com .

• The Blackhawk Gobbler Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation is holding their annual banquet Thursday at the Cantigny Golf Club, 27W270 Mack Road , in Wheaton . The doors open at 5:30 p.m.

There will be a cash bar with a turkey dinner followed by a live auction. For more information, call Bob Sharpenter at (630) 554-1234.

• The Quad County Hawg Hunters Chapter of Muskies, Inc., is holding their 21st annual Dick Cole Memorial Breakfast at the Plano American Hall today from 7 to 11 a.m. Tickets for adults are $6, seniors and children 6 -12 $4, and children 5 and under eat for free. Proceeds go to stocking muskies in Illinois lakes.

• The Chicagoland Muskie Hunters will hold their annual Indoor Fishing Flea Market from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Rolling Meadows High School at 2901 W. Central Road , Rolling Meadows .

- Outdoors with Mike Norris is heard every Thursday from 3 to 4 p.m. on WBIG (AM-1280). For more information on his fish guiding service, Mike Norris can be reached at wallimike@aol.com.