-- Some interesting facts emerged from the just completed season-opener of the CITGO Bassmaster Tour on Lake Tohopekaliga and the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. Takahiro Omori became just the third reigning CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion to win the first season-opening tournament. Immediately after winning the 1993 Classic, David Fritts followed up by capturing the Bassmaster Virginia Invitational on Kerr Reservoir. Denny Brauer did the trick by winning the 1998 Classic and then starting the season off with a victory in the Bassmaster Top 150 on the Potomac River three weeks later. With the $5,000 he won in the Busch Shootout in October, Omori had quietly gone over the $1 million mark in total career earnings from all circuits after 13 years of competitive fishing. According to the Pro Angling Insider business publication, he is the 30th pro in the million-dollar club. Omori padded his career earnings this weekend by winning the season-opener and pocketing $100,000. That bumped up his BASS earnings to nearly $800,000. Can Omori become the first reigning Classic champion to win the first two tournaments of the season? He'll have his chance this week as the Tour stops in Leesburg, Fla., to visit the Harris Chain of Lakes. With his close (2 pounds, 4 ounces) finish behind Omori, Tennessee pro David Walker did nothing to shake the bridesmaid tag that has plagued his career. Walker, 39, has enjoyed a good career with BASS, earning nearly $300,000, but he can't seem to get over the hump when it comes to posting a win. His record includes two runner-up finishes, three thirds, 10 top 10s and 33 top 50s in just 51 BASS events. Included in this list is a pair of third-place showings in the 2001 and 2002 Classics. "It's really frustrating," said Walker, who also finished second in the Tour season-opener two years ago. "I've had a good career, but I still don't have that win yet. I'm still waiting for that win. "This isn't any fun," Walker said of taking another runner-up prize, "but if anybody deserves to win, it's Takahiro. He works harder at it than anybody, I think." The CITGO Bassmasters Don't forget to tune in to The CITGO Bassmasters this Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m. ET on ESPN2 for coverage of the CITGO Bassmaster Tour opener on Florida's Lake Tohopekaliga. You'll see how Classic champ Takahiro Omori bested the field to take home the top prize of $100,000. Strong-armed thieves The thieves in central Florida must be getting stronger these days. A couple of weeks ago, Tour pro Brett Hite came out of his Lakeland hotel room to find his Mercury outboard laying on the ground behind his boat. The outboard had been completely removed from his Triton. Hite put it back on his boat with the help of an industrial tow truck lift. Greatest Angler Debate Former Classic champion Kevin VanDam was one of the 35 pros nominated for ESPN Outdoors' Greatest Angler Debate and is one of the 10 finalists for the honor. Inside BASS asked the three-time BASS Angler of the Year whom he would vote for as the best of the best. "I think you have to look at the past as well as the present, and if you look at the past, it's pretty tough to rule guys out like Roland Martin. But his current record isn't that good, so I don't think that that would put him at the top spot." VanDam, upon being told that Denny Brauer said he would vote for himself, responded: "Well, shoot, if he did it, I'm voting for myself, too. The record that I've had since I've been in the sport has been pretty solid. I can make a case for a handful of guys ? a really strong case that I don't think anybody can argue with. That's going to be the neat thing about it. It doesn't matter who wins; there's going to be enough controversy over it that everybody's going to win." From now through March, fishing fans will have the opportunity to cast their votes for the top angler on Bassmaster.com/vote. In April, Greatest Angler Debate programming will begin on ESPN2 as part of BASS Saturday. The programming will feature biographical shows on the top 10 anglers as well as debate programs featuring fans, the media and professional anglers. Fans will find stats and stories in the pages of Bassmaster Magazine, BASS Times and on Bassmaster.com. In June and July, the debate will heat up again as fans choose between the top two anglers during a second round of voting on Bassmaster.com. The debate will conclude in Pittsburgh ? at the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Classic ? when two champions are crowned. One will be given the Classic trophy and the other will be hailed as the greatest angler of all time. Did you know? Takahiro Omori made headlines around the world for winning the 2004 Classic in Charlotte, but the first Japanese pro to qualify for the coveted Classic was Toshinari Namiki in 1997. Pro birthdays A pair of former Classic champions (Ken Cook, 58, and Denny Brauer, 56) will celebrate their birthdays on Feb. 2 and 3, respectively. California pro Mark Rizk will be 41 on Feb. 7. If I hadn't become a BASS pro ? CITGO Bassmaster Open competitor Brent Ehrler of California might be making his living using a different kind of pole. He gave up his dreams of professional skiing to become a fishing pro.
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