Bass hooks Chicago

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The bass boom will land in the "hog butcher for the world" as an organization called B.A.S.S. next month brings its Bass Masters Classic fishing competition to Chicago for the first time.

The annual competition pits professional anglers against one another -- in this case, casting in Lake Michigan -- and also includes two fishing competitions for kids and a consumer expo.

The Classic will culminate with a free concert by Trisha Yearwood at Chicago's Soldier Field, following the climactic "weigh-in." At least 46 pros will compete.

Chicago is the largest city to hold the 30-year-old Bass Masters Classic, and B.A.S.S. is preparing for record crowds. More than 200,000 fans are expected to converge for the event, July 17-22.

SURGING INTEREST

"We jumped at the opportunity to hold this event in such a big city, where the sport can be accessed by a lot more people who have probably never seen bass fishing," said George McNeilly, director of communications for Montgomery, Ala.-based B.A.S.S., one of the world's largest fishing organizations with more than 600,000 members inside and outside the U.S.

Interest in bass fishing is surging, and several new sponsors have recently come aboard for the Bass Masters Classic. And they're not just sporting goods marketers. Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse signed on this month, and other new sponsors include First USA Visa Card, GMAC Insurance, W.L. Gore & Associates' Gore-Tex outerwear and Worldwaters.com. Longtime sponsors include General Motors Corp.'s Chevy Trucks, which is also a key sponsor of rival fishing tournament organization Operation Bass.

The B.A.S.S. event includes the Classic Outdoor Show, a combination trade show for fishermen and expo for newcomers to the sport. Lowe's will construct a home improvement how-to village at the show, and most other sponsors will demonstrate vehicles, gear and fishing apparel. Admission is free.

At the centerpiece of the Bass Masters Classic, the pro competition, each angler will tow his boat using a Chevy truck. Each competitor can catch up to five fish to bring to the weigh-in, but they all must be kept alive and healthy, and are later released.

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