GERALD SWINDLE WINS CITGO BASSMASTER ANGLER OF THE YEAR RACE
MANNING, S.C. - First screams, then tears erupted from the crowd surrounding Gerald Swindle on Saturday when BASS officials announced that the popular Alabama pro had won the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.
"Read it off. Let's go!" Swindle yelled from the crowd in the frozen seconds before tournament staff made the announcement official. When the results finally came, Swindle leaped in the air, shouting, then immediately vanished beneath a wave of his fellow Tour pros, yelling congratulations, friendly insults, and hoots of excitement.
"I used to bust his chops because he's never had a BASS win and I have," said Californian Skeet Reese, Swindle's fellow pro and close friend. "And here he had to one up me. I think we both agree it's the premiere title in bass fishing and now I have to put up with (him) for the next year."
It had been an anticipation-filled, 24-hour wait. On Friday, the field of pros competing on Santee Cooper Reservoir was cut to the top 12. Swindle finished 39th, ending his point-earning opportunities for the 2004 season and giving him a cumulative 1,326 points toward the championship.
The Tour championship is a seasonlong points race in which anglers earn points based on their finishes in each tournament. A tournament victory is worth 300 points, with additional points awarded in incrementally decreasing amounts across the rest of the field. On Friday, Swindle found himself in limbo, waiting to see if his only remaining competitor for the award would earn enough points from the tournament to beat Swindle's points.
"It seems like everyone on Tour has walked up and said, 'Dude, I'm pulling for you.' 'I'm pulling for you.' 'I'm pulling for you,'" Swindle said. "It was a pretty awesome feeling. When Denny Brauer walks up to you and says, 'Brother, I'm pulling for you,' you want to say, 'Man, you're a legend in the sport. Why are you pulling for me?'"
Incredibly, the wait between Friday's cut and Saturday's weigh-in ceremony weighed lightly on Swindle - who had the most points, but could potentially be topped based on rookie Greg Hackney's final score in the Tour finale. If Hackney finished eighth or higher on Saturday, the trophy and $111,550 top prize would slip through Swindle's fingers.
He took the tension with astonishing nonchalance right up until the final five minutes.
"I really slept well," Swindle said. "I slept late. I've been eating all day. My work's done (and) I really never got that nervous."
In the end, Hackney finished ninth the tournament, earning a season total of 1,323 and missing his chance at the trophy by three heartbreaking points.
"It'll just make me a little meaner next time," said Hackney, who consoled himself with the $10,000 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year award for earning the most points in the freshman class, as well as the $30,000 runner-up purse in the Angler of the Year race. "At the beginning of the year I never imagined this."
Hackney's other consolation is that he will get a rematch with Swindle in the upcoming Bassmaster Elite 50 tournaments. As the Rookie of the Year, Hackney will be the only Tour newcomer to earn a spot in the four-event, no-entry-fee series, and will get a share of the $1.6 million purse.
"I'm going to be there with a bunch of old timers," Hackney joked.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. In 2004, BASS will introduce the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 Series, a four-event, no-entry-fee circuit featuring a $1.6 million prize purse for the world's best anglers. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer 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 Tour presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Motorguide Trolling Motors, Bass Pro Shops, Progressive Insurance, and Bank One.
Associate Sponsors include G3 Boats and Bryant Heating and Cooling.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.