Younger tournament anglers are coming on strong and competing with the veteran pros. Nowhere was it more evident than at the 2000 BASSMASTERS Classic. These guys are to be commended for earning the right to be at the Classic. They qualified by being top-notch anglers along the various B.A.S.S. Invitational and Top 150 trails and through the Federation divisions. At this year's Classic, there were eight Classic qualifiers under the age of 30: Timmy Horton, Brent Chapman, Edwin Evers, Todd Faircloth, Brett Hite, Michael Iaconelli, Kotaro Kiriyama, and Aaron Martens.
Timmy Horton, from Spruce Pine, Alabama, deserves a ton of credit. In his rookie year (1999-2000 season), he won the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year title and won over $178,000. His dedication is evident as he spent his time, prefishing for weeks, sometimes months, before events and was on the road the entire year. When he won the B.A.S.S. Marilyn Top 150 on the Potomac River, he gave a lot of credit to Gary Klein for coming to his room and motivating him the night before the last day of competition. Tim is a college graduate who gave up his baseball athletic scholarship to pursue fishing. He is an active member of the Christian anglers and donates time towards kids' fishing events for underprivileged and disabled kids. Tim helped organize last year's event that had Bill Dance as weighmaster. He took proceeds from his fishing career and bought his first home for his wife Melanie and their new baby. At 27 years of age, he not only knows where he's going but takes time to help others along the way and gives a great deal of credit to the pros who have helped him along the rugged path as a professional angler.
Brent Chapman is a 28-year-old professional angler from Shawnee, Kansas. He is achieving his lifelong dream of becoming a professional B.A.S.S. angler. He still belongs to his local bass club, the Shawnee Mission BASSMASTERS, which he joined when he was 15. He has seven top finishes on the BASSMASTER tournament trail and has won over $186,000. He was very creative in achieving victory on the May Latisiana Central Invitational on the Red River. Wanting to fish where the big rigs couldn't go, he called on his sponsor at the Skeeter plant in Kilgore, Texas, to get him an aluminum boat with a small Yamaha engine so he could push-pole a flat bottom boat over stumps and obstructions until. This enabled him to reach waters that put a $42,000 paycheck in his pocket and helped secure his birth at the Chicago Classic.
Edwin Evers hails from Mannsville, Oklahoma is a young sprout of 25. He started fishing tournaments for bass at age 13 out of a pond boat and used swim fins as the method of propulsion to win the tournament! This was his second year on the pro BASS tour, and he ranked third in the Central Division. Edwin was a local favorite in Chicago as he went to school in Seneca, Illinois, just outside the windy City. When he went to college, he picked Southeastern Oklahoma State because it was a warmer climate. He graduated with a degree in communications and a minor in business marketing. Because of this background and his natural abilities as an angler, he is sure to be a success in the fishing world.
Another young angler on his way up the ladder in the pro circles is Todd Faircloth, from Jasper, Texas. He finished 8th in the BASSMASTER Top 150s in 1999-2000, fished 19 events, and had eight finishes in the money. He has been fishing bass tournaments since he was nine and credited his dad for "...always taking me along on his fishing trips." He and his uncle won a parent/child club tournament when he was twelve. Todd grew up along the banks of Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas and has been hooked on bass fishing for most all his life. He is quite a successful angler in Texas, as he has fished most every pro circuit in the State. His main sponsors are Skeeter Boats, Yamaha Outboards, and Lake Fork Tackle. Todd won six boats in three years and is a sincerely dedicated angler. He was one of the few single guys at the Classic, and at age 24, he will be quite some catch!
It seems like the ages keep getting younger, but Brett Hite, at age 21, is no newcomer to bass fishing circles. While other kids were watching cartoons, he grew up watching the fishing shows on TV. With his father, Davy Hite, the 1999 Classic winner and long-time B.A.S.S. contender, Brett had an excellent teacher and head start over most anglers. He started bass fishing at age three and finished third in his first tournament at age 13. This was his second year on the BASSMASTER Western Invitational trail, and Brett finished in 5th place. He finished 4th place at Lake Oroville and Clear Lake in California and had a 13th place finish at Elephant Butte, NM. He won his first draw tournament at age 19. His hero is Jay Yelas, who now resides in Tyler, Texas, but grew up out West and has been a big superstar on the BASSMASTER Circuit. Young Brett hopes to follow in Jay's and his dad's footsteps on the ladder to success along the BASS pro tournament trail.
Another youngster on the circuit is Michael "Spike" Iaconelli, who won over $180,000 in 1999-2000. He has fished the tour just two years with B.A.S.S. Spike was quoted in BASS TIMES as saying he would never fail to qualify for a Classic, and according to the various people who have fished with him, it's his intuition, sixth sense about fishing and natural abilities that separates him from most anglers. He uses this talent to make it all work for him and not against him. He is highly focused and is a "fishing machine" on the water. Mike won the B.A.S.S. Federation Championship in 1999, the Vermont Top 150 on Lake Champlain, and a paycheck in eight of twelve competitions during the 1999-2000 season. This young man was cast as a favorite to win the B.A.S.S. Classic by both Hank Parker and Fish Fishburne. However, the cards just weren't suitable for Mike for this year, but he is someone to keep your eye on in the future.
Kotaro Kiriyama is another new face to watch. This 29-year-old angler qualified for the Classic in his second year on the Western Invitational Tournament Trail. He is a native of Japan and only the second angler from Japan to fish B.A.S.S., the first being Norio Tanabe. Kotaro divides his time between his home in Japan and his home in California. This past season, he finished 5th in Arizona on Lake Powell, 14th at Elephant Butte in New Mexico, and 13th at Lake Oroville in California. Kotaro has worked hard and earned a paycheck in six of the nine BASSMASTERS tournaments he entered. Just before this year's Classic, he hooked up with Skeeter/Yamaha and made an impressive run for the Classic title, tieing 4th place with seasoned veteran Rick Clunn. Kotaro is a commendable and humble young man who will go far in this industry.
Rounding out the under-30 group is Aaron Martens, another newcomer that was picked to win the Classic. Aaron is a Westerner hailing from Castaic, California. You couldn't miss him at 27 and wearing the colors of Crown Royal. He fished his first B.A.S.S. Classic in 1999 on the Louisiana Delta, where he was practicing fishing when he hooked a 15-foot alligator on a Carolina rig. That big ole' gator gave him a run for his money and an elevated heart rate, to say the least, especially since it was almost as long as his boat! Aaron has been on the circuit for three years and has qualified twice for the Classic. Both times were through the Western Invitationals. He finished 1st place on the Western trails, followed by Kotaro Kiriyama in 2nd. Aaron said, "Dedication and determination have brought me to where I am today." He has finished in the money in fifteen out of 20 tournaments. He won the California Lake Oroville tournament. Aaron also finished third in Megabucks and finished in the Top 10 in seven of the ten events he fished.
These young men are to be commended and are indeed an inspiration to aspiring anglers coming down the tubes. They have been blowing the doors off the competition and will be in this sport for the long run. One of the significant differences between the pros of today and yesterday is their education. Most are college graduates, well-groomed and mannered, and highly skilled anglers, making them very marketable and prized by potential sponsors. If they continue playing their cards right, they all have a long future in the fishing and marine industries.