BOLER IS THE HOMEGROWN PRE-CLASSIC FAVORITE

Rarely has there been a bigger pre-tournament favorite than homegrown Roger Boler as he heads into the 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer Aug. 1-3 in New Orleans.

It doesn't matter that Boler has never won a BASS event. Or that this is his first Classic appearance. Or that he doesn't have a wealth of experience (considering that he has only competed in two seasons on the CITGO Bassmaster Tour).

There are folks in southern Louisiana who would tell you that the 43-year-old Slidell angler has an absolute mastery over the bass that swim in the shallow, weedy waters of the massive Louisiana Delta.

"Am I the Classic favorite? Some people think that way, but homefield advantage isn't always a good thing," Boler said. "Homefield advantage on the Delta would be a little different than homefield advantage on a lake or reservoir, I think.

"It's my home water. I know the Delta real well, but still, you learn something new every day that you go out on the water down there. My only advantage is I know what the fish relate to that time of the year. Being able to run and hit spots - running the tide as they call it - is the key. You don't have a lot of time to do that because launching out of Bayou Segnette makes everything a two-hour run. So your window of opportunity is pretty short."

Boler, who finished fourth in the Busch BASS Angler of the Year race, will be joined by three fellow Louisiana anglers - Homer Humphreys of Minden, Oak Ridge's Greg Hackney, and Federation representative Cole Garrett of Calvin.

But in the minds of his friends, Boler has been the one with a bullseye on his back since the Tour season began.

"In the beginning, they were all saying I had to make the Classic because it was on the Delta this year," he said. "I just tried to put it in the back of my mind."

MIZE IS MISSING. Three points.

Three points from earning his second consecutive Classic invitation. Three points from a trip to the Big Easy. Three points from retiring from his job of 28 years.

Three lousy points.

That was the margin, a bitter disappointment for Jimmy Mize, who will be sitting at home while his contemporaries chase fame and fortune in New Orleans. Coming up short will not only keep him in Arkansas this summer - it will also keep him working as a machine tender at a paper mill for a while longer.

"I had already told them at work that if I made the Classic, I was turning in my resignation," Mize said recently. "I was quitting. Sure was.

"The kids are grown and just about out of college. I was doing well enough that I figured now was the time to quit so that I could actually work for my sponsors. If you work for a living you can't help sponsors much, if you've got to be there every day. That was just something I wanted to do."

The manner in which Mize came up short will haunt him for a while.

"At Lake Hamilton, I had five dead fish the second day and that killed me," he said. "I went back to cull one and they were all dead. I caught a couple of small fish to cull three of the better fish that were dead because you lose such a big (penalty) if you have five dead ones. And then they died. Then I realized there was something definitely wrong with the livewell because they weren't in there an hour. It cost me 14 points, not even counting what I lost by throwing those bigger fish back.

"Then I had a 6-pounder come off the last day at Alabama - after he had given up and was on top of the water. He was sliding toward the boat and not even fighting when he came off. I told my partner, 'Right there went the Classic. That one would have done it for sure.'"

ISH'S NEW GIG. Ish Monroe, one of the Tour's fresh, young faces, will handle a new job when he serves as the color analyst for the bass competition coverage of the recent ESPN Great Outdoor Games, which airs July 19-22.

"Ish Monroe will be a voice talent at the Great Outdoor Games for us," said Tina Thornton, ESPN's coordinating producer for the event. "We're very excited about it."

"I think it's a really great opportunity for me," added Monroe, who will be making his first Classic appearance in New Orleans. "I'm very excited about it. I get to use my public speaking (training) and get to work with ESPN, which is kind of like a dream come true."

DID YOU KNOW? Texans dominate the 61-man Classic field this year with 10 representatives. Florida is second with six.

PRO BIRTHDAYS. Texan Randy Dearman turns 56 on July 16. Classic contender Kevin Wirth will be 43 on July 20, while four-time Classic winner Rick Clunn will blow out 57 candles four days later. On the opposite end of the age spectrum, Texas pro Todd Faircloth celebrates his 28th birthday on July 25.

IF I HADN'T BECOME A BASS PRO... "Before I became a bass pro, my profession was retail management," Texas pro Lance Vick said. "I worked for a large grocery company in Texas and would be managing a retail store for the company now. While in the grocery business I began to invest in real estate. Since my Bassmaster quest I have put that on hold. My future plans include real estate investing."

THEY SAID IT. "Fishing is a game of seconds, and just a split second distraction can mean the difference between that 7-pounder or making a bad cast and not even getting the bait presented properly and missing an opportunity completely. Tiger Woods could have a mental lapse for a split second at the Masters and, as long as it's not during his swing, he's going to be fine. That hole is still going to be there. He can regain his composure and continue. But in fishing, we're chasing these little green things around out there with brains that are about half the size of our thumbnails and they're swimming around under that water. So if I have a mental lapse, the hole that I'm shooting for may not even be there anymore. So, you know, it's very critical to maintain focus at all times." Texas pro and Classic contender Alton Jones.