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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Bass fishing finding more followers

Steve Christilaw Correspondent

They’ve been a punchline. Now they’re ready for, if not prime time, then at least national cable.

Mention bass and many remember the Saturday Night Live parody – the Bass-O-Matic blender and the punchline: “Mmmmm, great bass!”

To others, bass is the new king of sport fish, spawning competing professional bass fishing tournaments and championships as well as any number of local and national cable programs dedicated to the sport.

“Bass has kind of become the NASCAR of fishing,” explained Dave Hedden, a fishing consultant at Sportsman’s Warehouse – the primary sponsor of the American Bass Anglers tournament at Liberty Lake earlier this month. “It seems to have that same kind of appeal.”

Like NASCAR auto racing, professional bass fishing has spread nationwide from its strong base in the South.

And it’s finding solid footing in the Spokane Valley.

“Liberty Lake is a fantastic bass fishing lake,” said Valley resident Shaun Starnes, who coordinates the Eastern Washington tournament schedule for American Bass Anglers. “The lake is really an ideal breeding ground for bass and the fishing there is really strong.”

Newman Lake once was an outstanding bass fishing lake, Starnes said.

“It’s coming back,” he said. “In just another few years it will be back to what it once was, where every cast will catch fish.”

Starnes held a one-day tournament on Liberty Lake June 18, the fourth of a six-tournament schedule leading up to the two-day district championship tournament Aug. 20-21 at Long Lake’s Nine Mile Resort.

“The fishing was really good and I’m planning on bringing the tournament back again next year,” Starnes said.

Bass fishing seems an odd development in an area so deeply steeped in trout and steelhead fishing.

“You put a trout fisherman and a bass fisherman in the same room and they aren’t going to agree on a single thing,” Hedden laughed. “These are really two different kinds of fishing.”

Mostly because these are two totally different fish.

“Bass are predators,” Starnes said. “That’s the key thing to remember about bass. Trout are an opportunistic feeder.”

Hedden agreed. “You can catch trout in open water occasionally,” he said. “With bass you have to go where they are. That means fishing in the weeds, under docks and in the rocks.”

That means a different set of fishing gear,” Starnes said.

“You can go out and buy a $40 setup and go out and catch bass,” he said. “I don’t want to mislead you about that. But if you want to get into professional bass fishing, you need to get into some special gear.

“Let me put it this way, when I go out, I have at least six or eight different rods all set up differently. Different kinds of bait require different amounts of flexibility in the rod you use.”

“Because they are fishing in tougher terrain, bass fishers like to use a heavier line,” Hedden said. “For that reason, they prefer to use a baitcasting reel because it doesn’t twist the line.

“When you get into the more competitive arena, you’re looking at a pricier reel. You need something that has more controls so that you can adjust to the different conditions you face.”

Tournament bass fishing is open and friendly to those just starting out. Entry fees are generally under $100 per tournament. While many bass fishermen have their own boats – many specifically designed for the sport – tournaments are open to boat-less fishermen.

“The way it works with our tournaments is this: once we get all the entrants with boats, we have a lottery to allocate spots in those boats.

“Actually, that’s a great way to get started in this sport. You end up going out with someone who knows what they’re doing and you learn from an expert. In fact, I will occasionally go out with someone else even though I have my own boat – especially if it’s a lake I’m not that familiar with.”

Like most sports, the object is to qualify for the national championship, and bass fishing is no different.

In fact, two Valley youngsters qualified for the Bassmasters Junior World Championships, which will be held July 23-25 on the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania prior to the Bassmasters Classic World Championships.

Liberty Lake’s Joey Nania, 14 and an eighth-grader at Greenacres Middle School, and Spokane Valley’s Scott Hodgkinson, 17, each qualified by winning at the Inland Empire Bass Club’s junior classic on Banks Lake in May. Nania won the 11-14 age group by catching five smallmouth bass, weighing in at 10.09 pounds. Hodgkinson won the 15-18 age group with five fish weighing 9.95 pounds.

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