KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Daytime temperatures in central Florida have been in the low 80s the past several days, creating perfect conditions for the 36th Citgo Bassmaster Classic.
Maybe a little too perfect, if you ask Joe Conway. Conway, a 43-year-old Colorado Springs resident, is one of 51 anglers who will be competing Friday through Sunday on Lake Tohopekaliga in the tournament known as the Super Bowl of bass fishing. And during the last official practice round for the tournament Wednesday, “Lake Toho’s” water seemed to be teeming with fish. The recent warm temperatures, according to anglers, have prompted the bass to begin spawning. And when bass are spawning, they move to the top of the water and become easy targets. Fishing then becomes more of a power game instead of the patient hunt that suits Conway’s style. “The big ones will be up where you can see them,” Conway said. “I’d rather it be tougher than easier.” Conway said he would prefer if the fish were in their post-spawn “sulking” period when they retreat to the thick grass to rest and are more difficult to find. Still, after finding several plentiful spots during Wednesday’s practice round, Conway said he is confident he will catch the fish that will allow him to compete. He has been in Florida since Feb. 12 and has familiarized himself with the lakes and their thick vege- tation, which he said is “180 degrees from anything anybody around (Colorado) has fished. We have sticks and rocks. Grass is minimal.” In addition to scouting the lake system on which he will compete during the Classic, Conway has been spending time with family and friends — his wife and father are among those who have joined him — and getting a taste of the life of professional bass fishermen. Conway is one of six “amateur” anglers who earned bids to the Classic. To do so, those six had to endure multiple levels of tournaments and beat out approximately 40,000 other BASS Federation fishermen. Conway said he has dreamed of participating in the Classic for years, and he has some heady experiences. He has mingled with legends of the sport, and last weekend he took part in an autograph session. Conway had to admit that strangers asking him to sign his name “was kind of cool.” “Way back, when I used to sign my name, I’d think, ‘I should change this so it could fit on a ball cap,’” he said. “I was just kidding.” Not anymore. Conway signed approximately 80 autographs. If he makes a good showing, he might sign a lot more. First prize is $500,000.