| FishTails: July
|Local angler shoots for bass fishing's top prize
John McCoy <email@example.com>
Charleston Daily Mail Outdoors editor
Friday July 14, 2000; 04:25 PM
When Russ Smarr makes his first cast in this week's BASS Master Classic tournament, he'll carry with him the hopes
and dreams of all West Virginia bass fishermen.
Smarr, 51, is only the second Mountain State resident ever to qualify for the event, known in angling circles as
the "Super Bowl of Bass Fishing." On Thursday, Smarr and three other amateurs will lock horns with 42
professional qualifiers in a three-day quest for a world championship and $350,000 in prize money.
"I feel confident that I'll be able to find fish," says the Big Chimney resident. "The big question
is whether I'll be able to catch more of them than the next guy."
Two weeks ago, Smarr traveled to the tournament site to scout the waters and to find an effective way to fish them.
He says conditions on Lake Michigan near Chicago were reassuringly similar to conditions he's found in lakes and
rivers around West Virginia.
"The lake itself was awfully rough, so I ended up doing most of my fishing in the Chicago River and the Calumet
River," he says. "I think conditions for the tournament itself are going to be difficult, with the fish
holding 15 to 20 feet deep in super-clear water."
Fortunately for Smarr, that sort of fishing is right up his alley. "It's finesse fishing," he says. "In
West Virginia, we end up doing a lot of that."
Unless conditions at the time warrant otherwise, Smarr says he plans to use soft plastic tube baits, fished on
a "Carolina rig" -- a sinker and swivel trailed by the lure on a short leader.
"I plan to fish the breakwater walls along the lake, plus a few humps that rise up close to the surface,"
Smarr says. "My main target will be smallmouth bass, because if you can find one of them, you'll usually find
a few more close by."
Smarr qualified for the Classic earlier this year by winning the East Regional championship of the Bass Anglers
Sportsman Society Federation, the amateur division of B.A.S.S. Other federation qualifiers came from the organization's
South, Midwest and West regions.
The rest of the Classic's qualifiers come from the B.A.S.S. Tournament Trail, a series of 17 professional tournaments
held throughout the United States. Each Classic angler is given the use of a brand-new Ranger bass boat to use
throughout the tournament's four days -- one day of practice and three days of fishing.
The angler who accumulates the largest aggregate weight of bass during the competition wins the tournament. All
fish must be alive when weighed in, and are later released. Each dead fish results in a penalty.
Smarr says he's confident in his ability. At the Federation Tournament earlier this year, his total of 17 pounds,
8 ounces was good enough to earn him the East Region title and a spot in the Classic.
In qualifying, Smarr joined Frank Haught of Lumberport as the only West Virginians to make the tournament roster
in the event's 30-year history. Like Smarr, Haught qualified for the 1989 Classic by winning the Eastern championship
in the Federation Tournament.
Smarr's only fear is that his luggage, which will include his tackle boxes and gear, won't arrive in Chicago at
the same time he does. "That would be really bad news," he says.
Though single, Smarr says he won't be alone during his stay in the Windy City. "I have 13 friends who are
going to make the trip with me," he says. "I'll have my own little cheering section there at each weigh-in."
Russ at the Classic
Russ's Diary - Day One
Local angler shoots for bass fishing's top prize