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Final Pro Classic Spots Will Be Decided on Alabama River

November 21, 2005 - CELEBRATION, Fla. "Like his 89 fellow competitors, Randy Howell of Springville, Ala., is well aware of what's at stake in the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship, Dec. 1-4, on the Alabama River in Prattville, Ala.

In addition to the tournament,s $80,000 top prize, five of the 12 remaining invitations to the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic will go to the top finishers. The Classic is set for Feb. 24-26 on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla.

"I've got one more chance to make the Classic, a last shot like a lot of guys, said Howell, a CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series pro. "I want to be in it so bad. Having missed the 2005 Classic in Pittsburgh was bad enough, but missing another would really hurt.

"So I'm glad to have the opportunity to make it through the Open Championship. This is a good second-chance opportunity. Five out of 90 is a good shot at the Classic.

Because the annual world championship event moved from its traditional summertime slot to February 2006, some competitors from the 2005 Bassmaster Tour and Bassmaster Elite 50s qualified for both the 2005 and 2006 Classics. After the Open Championship, the only remaining Classic slots will to go the top six performers in the BASS Federation National Championship, taking place Jan. 11-14, 2006, on the Harris Chain of Lakes in Leesburg, Fla., and the winner of the 2005 ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series Championship.

Many pros are familiar with the Alabama River, which hosted the CITGO Bassmaster Classic in 1981 and 1982 and also hosted recent Bassmaster Tour and Bassmaster Elite 50 stops. But anglers will encounter a major change this time around, the Coosa River section from north of the Bibb Graves Bridge near Wetumpka will be off-limits.

"That's a big deal, Howell said. "A lot of guys, including myself, used a jet boat to go above the bridge in the rocks to the dam in previous tournaments.

"That's going to take away a strategy that several guys have used, but there is still a lot of fishable water on that river with a lot of creeks and good-looking places. I don't know much about it, though, because both times we've fished it in tournaments, I used my jet boat to get above the rocks. So I'm going to have to learn the rest of the river now.

From all indications, Howell believes the Alabama River will cooperate when it comes to surrendering quality largemouth and spotted bass.

"I think it's going to be pretty good, he said. "A friend of mine who knows the river really well told me earlier that he expected a lot of 18- to 20-pound (five-bass) stringers to be caught this time of year.

"He said it's a good time of year because a lot of big spots are biting and the largemouth will be biting, too. We both think it will probably be won with spots.

The Alabama and Coosa Rivers are renowned as fertile habitat for 3-pound-plus spotted bass. But Howell is hoping there will be enough rain before the tournament to raise the river level and create water movement.

"It would really help if we have some current because that makes the spots bite better, he said. "And that will be a big factor in what (strategy) wins. If the water doesn,' move, the spot bite is always a little slower. And the largemouths back in the creeks become more of a factor.

"If we get some rain and maybe some colder weather where people run their heaters and there is some power generation, that will make it better.

Howell said crankbaits and jigs will be the tickets to the better limits of spotted bass, along with jighead worms and drop-shot plastics. He expects the bass to be shallow " in water 5 feet deep or less.

In the Open Championship format, the entire field of 90 pros and non-boater partners will compete on Thursday and Friday. The field is cut to 10 on Saturday for the semifinal round. The finals will feature the top five pros and weights each day carry over.

Daily weigh-ins will begin at 2:30 p.m. at Cooters Pond, 1844 Cooters Pond Road, Prattville, and are free to the public. The daily launches will take place at Cooters Pond at 6:15 a.m.

Local sponsors include the Prattville Area Chamber of Commerce.

BASS is the worldwide authority on bass fishing, sanctioning more than 20,000 events through the BASS Federation annually. Guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans, BASS sets the standard for credibility, professionalism, sportsmanship and conservation, as it has for nearly 40 years.

BASS stages bass fishing tournaments for every skill level and culminates with the CITGO Bassmaster Classic. Through its clubs, youth programs, aquatic resource advocacy, magazine publishing and multimedia platforms, BASS offers the industry's widest array of services and support to its nearly 550,000 members. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.



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