2003 Central Opens Start in Mississippi Aug. 21

COLUMBUS, Miss. - The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway was a dream born in the late 1700s by men searching for a watery route to connect middle America to the Gulf of Mexico.  More than three hundred years later, the 234-mile fishery is a reality that empties into the Mobile Delta and, on Aug. 21, will be a major factor in the dreams of 350 anglers competing there on the Mississippi CITGO Bassmaster Central Open presented by Busch Beer.

On Aug. 21-23, the largemouth bass fishery that has emerged in the Tenn-Tom will have the attention of 175 pros and their amateur partners during the Central Division's season opener.

It is the first of three events that will send the top anglers to the inaugural Bassmaster Open Championship in December - and, ultimately, the coveted CITGO Bassmaster Classic next summer.

The Tenn-Tom, completed in 1982, uses locks to unite the Tennessee and Tombigbee rivers into a serpentine path along the borders of Mississippi and Alabama.  The Tenn-Tom offers 44,000 acres of fishable waters along the way and - most importantly to the competitors - has never been the site of a BASS tournament.

"I've gotten a lot of calls from people wanting help," said Pete Ponds, a former Classic qualifier from Madison, Miss. "And I don't fish it that much - three or four times a year. But I've fished it for a lot of years.

"There are a lot of people who don't know anything about it. There's just not many people that know a lot about it that's been fishing on the Tour or the Opens. "

The experts agree that the Tenn-Tom fishery usually does not show its best face during the hottest months of the year.

"It looks like the fishing is going to be OK, but it's going to be low weights," Ponds predicted. "Here it takes 14 pounds a day to be competitive. It will probably take about 30 to 35 pounds to win.

"That's mostly because of the time of the year. In the springtime, you catch a lot bigger sacks. That's when it will usually take 18 to 20 pounds (a day) to win tournaments here."

 "I think there will be a lot of small fish caught," added former Classic champion Paul Elias, who knows the chain intimately, but will not be competing in the Open. "It might take 14-15 pounds a day to win. I think 12 pounds will be a good stringer.

"That place hasn't been real great for the last three or four years. They killed the vegetation back about three years ago and it's still trying to recover from that. The vegetation is back and the (chain) is making a recovery, but it's still not back like it was."

There's a lot of water for competitors to choose from.  The Tenn-Tom Waterway begins with Bay Springs Lake (located near Tishomingo, Miss.), a 6,700-acre reservoir that doesn't receive much fishing attention when compared to its counterparts to the south. Continuing south, the Tenn.-Tom features five unnamed locks and 46 miles of water.

Aberdeen Lake, a 4,600-acre pool, is the beginning of the waterway in the opinion of most Alabama and Mississippi anglers who rarely make the long run north to Bay Springs. Next is the 23-mile long Columbus Lake (8,900 acres in size), which may be the most heavily pressured pool on the Tenn.-Tom. Continuing south, Aliceville Lake is the favorite of most local trophy hunters. With 8,300 surface acres, this 28-mile-long pool has produced an impressive number of 10-pound-plus bass over the years, along with documented catches of a 14- and 16-pound fish. T

Gainesville Lake is the oldest of the waterway's pools. The 6,400-acre lake was opened to the public in 1978.

Ponds believes that the fishing pressure will be spread throughout the chain, but Aliceville Lake will likely get the most attention.

"It's going to fish pretty large," he said. "There are a lot of oxbow lakes that run off of it. I think it's going to be a good place.

"There's a lot of talk about Aliceville. The locals call it 'Pickingsville.' And that's probably going to get the most pressure of the three pools. It has produced some fish over 10 (pounds). There's been some real studs come out of it, but that's in the spring.

"Aliceville has a lot of grass in it. Columbus is the middle pool and it's a pretty good lake that has some grass, but not a much. Aberdeen is the north pool and it has a lot of woods like the Red River. Aliceville is usually where the bigger fish are.

"I think spinnerbaits will be a big deal, as well as crankbaits like Bandit's 200, which is real strong around here."

The anglers will launch from Stennis East Bank Park at 6 a.m. each day.  Daily weigh-ins will be at 2:15 p.m.

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass-fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.

Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Chevrolet Trucks, Yamaha Outboards, Mercury Marine, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Kumho Tires, Progressive Insurance, Abu Garcia, Berkley, Diamond Cut Jeans, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, and BankOne.

Associate Sponsors include Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning and G3 Boats.

Local sponsors include the Columbus Convention and Visitors' Bureau.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375.