The Bassmaster Elite Series Pride of Georgia tournament returns to Columbia County this week with more than 200 pro and amateur anglers vying for a share of a purse that totals more than $670,000.
Wildwood Park is playing host to the tournament for the fourth consecutive year and will have plenty of volunteers to assist with parking and other tasks, park manager Jeb Bell said.
"There will be food, merchants, vendors, even an inflatable slide for kids," he said.
Volunteers in golf carts will shuttle spectators from parking areas to the weigh-in and expo areas.
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, said BASS publicist Doug Grassian.
Anglers returning this year include Arkansas pro Mike McClelland, who won the 2007 tournament -- and its $100,000 first prize -- with a four-day total of 70 pounds, 7 ounces. He said he is eager to fish the lake again.
"One of the keys to succeeding on Clarks Hill Lake is finding the baitfish and where the blueback herring are grouped together," he said. "Many people think its necessary to 'match the hatch' and mimic those baitfish, but once you find areas they are in, you can catch them pretty much any way you want."
Other favorites scheduled to fish this week include Kevin Van Dam, Ish Monroe, Jason Quinn, Byron Velvick and Mike Iaconelli, Grassian said.
After practice days Monday, Tuesday and today, formal competition begins Thursday and runs through Sunday, with daily launches at 6:30 a.m. and weigh-ins at 3 p.m.
The pro field includes 109 anglers, each of whom will fish with an amateur 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 final 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.
The Fishing Expo will be open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. with vendors, exhibits and other activities, including new events added this year, Grassian said.
Activities include 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 Cable, set for 2:30 p.m.
BASS is the largest fishing organization in the world with more than a million members. This event is made up of a series of competitions featuring more than $11 million in prizes as the anglers compete for a bid to participate in the Classic.
The winning pro of the Pride of Georgia will receive $100,000. The event in Columbia County is one of 11 competitions of the tour.
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