Russell Bottley ducked in under the hospital portico Sunday afternoon to avoid the light, but cold misty rain.“This is bass fishing nirvana,” he said with a smile not unlike that seen on the face of a youngster on Christmas morning.“I can’t believe this is really happening right here in Orange….this is the biggest thing to come to Orange in my life time!”

Surprisingly enough, the Sunday evening crowd was considerably smaller than Saturday’s massive gathering as the seemingly endless line of 102 of the best bass fishermen in the world trailered their rigs through the hospital parking lot for inspection. While it was all business and autographs were not the order of the day, it still provided a rare opportunity to view your favorite pro and his brightly wrapped tow vehicle and boat up close and personal.

Obviously, the smaller crowd was the result of very few folks even knowing about the Sunday evening affair as even snow wouldn’t have kept them away had they known. It was probably not an oversight by the hosts as they did not need an over flow crowd with all 102 pros trying to negotiate an already crowded parking lot.

Shaw Grigsby talks fishing with Trey and Stacy Smith.

There was little doubt that while that many wrapped boats in one place was a little over whelming, it was the tow vehicles that elicited the most oohs and aahs and Skeet Reese easily won that contest with his massive black and yellow trimmed truck. As you would have expected with Toyota’s involvement in everything “bass fishing”, a number of the pros were driving well appointed Toyota trucks that appeared to require a rope ladder just to climb aboard.

John Gothia, one of the folks that played a major role in bringing this event to Orange noted, “This check-in is usually held somewhere other than the host site, but we asked for it as well and they agreed after seeing what we could do.”The process went very smoothly and the pros were even treated to an unexpected meal before exiting for their hotels, etc.

David Thibodaux, there is only one Tib, summed up the event thus far as a combination of Mardi Gras and Christmas at the same time.“All the different color boats and trucks look to me like a Mardi Gras parade,” said big Tib, “and I’ve been riding through the hotel parking lots at night like I was out looking at Christmas lights.”He has never been lauded for his eloquence, but his perspective is seldom misunderstood!

Very few vehicles traveling on MacArthur Drive Saturday evening failed to turn into the shopping center parking for a closer look.Simon Outfitters and Granger Chevrolet partnered up to host a “Meet the Pro” session and it was packed most of the afternoon. The boats and the aroma of barbecue were the drawing cards from afar, but the pros on hand made it an evening to remember.

I talked with visitors from DeRidder, Lafayette, Tomball and Baytown that made the trip over to see their favorite bass fishermen. Jonathan Simon had to be on cloud nine as the visitors packed his shop. A number of them bought lures that will never get wet as they just wanted something for the pros to autograph.

It was apparently a win-win for the Granger gang as well. I talked with a Grandmother from Florien with three youngsters in tow that spent more time inspecting one of the trucks on display than talking with the pros.“Is that where this truck came from,” she asked while pointing across the highway in the direction of the dealership. “If I didn’t have the kids with me I’d be over there right now trying to make a deal.”

The benefits of getting involved with the historical event were not lost on the folks at David Self Ford either. A number of the pros made the short run to their dealership for even more meet and greet after leaving the shopping center. Promoting their sponsors’ products and representing them in a positive light is as important to every pro’s career as catching fish, but they have really gone the extra mile this week.

The weigh-ins will easily attract the largest crowds Thursday through Sunday, but the early morning blast offs are equally exciting for early risers. They leave the launch in very safe and orderly flights, but that is a world of horsepower cranking up at the same time.

Before rushing off to another meeting with organizers Sunday evening Gothia added, “Hosting this tournament is the result of a lot of phone calls and leg work as well as the whole hearted support of local businesses and the Chamber of Commerce. We are determined to make this just the beginning for hosting more events like this for years to come.”

In the mean time, in spite of difficult winds that hampered the efforts of most of the field, The Triangle Tail Chasers managed to pull off a very successful Open Trout Tournament last Saturday. Of the fifteen trout weighed in by the top five teams, thirteen were released to fight again.

The top five teams all weighed in three fish limits that averaged better than five pounds a fish. The team of James Mayeaux, Ben Reina and Jimmy Parliska won the first place check with a very impressive 17.87 pounds. They also cashed the biggest trout side pot check with a 28 inch fish that weighed 7.15 pounds.

Tournament organizer, Michael Braxton, said that because the conditions were so tough and several teams still came in from as far away as Houston that he paid out all of the entry fee money to the winners.“We normally hold a small percentage to offset some of the costs, but it was an open event to attract new members and they deserved it all.

Jeremy Reeves, Eric James and Ben Reina also won Lew Speed Spools in the door prize drawings. The first regular season tournament is scheduled for March 23.

Skeet Reese’s tow vehicle and boat turn lots of heads.