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Champion to fish national tournament

Exterminating bugs might be Bill Champion’s occupation, but it’s fishing that’s his passion.

Which is how the Demopolis resident has come to be one of 50 anglers competing in the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series National Championship, to be held next weekend at East Lake Toho, Kissimmee, Fla. The tournament is the country’s most prestigious event for amateur fishermen.

“I’m real excited,” Champions says. “It’s a better feeling than finding a hundred-dollar bill in the dryer.”

He deserves to be. Qualifying for nationals has been a rigorous process, one that began in early 2005 with a series of divisional tournaments scattered across the state, at sites like Alex City, Prattville, and Eufaula. When the standings from those tournaments were compiled, Champion finished eighth, good for qualification into the regional tournament in Columbus, Miss.

Only the top 10 anglers in the regional tournament advanced to Kissimmee, but Champion came in sixth to punch his ticket.

“This was my second year competing in this series,” Champion says. “Last time I didn’t quite make it, but this year I was lucky enough to go to nationals.”

Champion feels like he might not be done yet. The competition will last five days beginning Tuesday, with pre-fishing Tuesday and Wednesday, the first two days of official competition Thursday and Friday, and only the top 12 fisherman advancing to Saturday’s final day. Champion says he has already reserved his hotel room for Friday night.

“I guess you could call that confidence,” he says with a laugh. “I feel like I’ve got as good a chance as anyone. Nothing’s written in stone. At the very least, I’ve got a 2 percent chance.”

His chances are probably better. After qualifying, Champion visited East Lake Toho in

December for two days of pre-fishing he hopes will give him an advantage over anglers from farther-flung areas that have not fished the lake before.

Ironically, Champion’s sense of where to fish the lake might not come in handy at all. Champion competes in the “non-boater” category, meaning that he is paired at random with a competitor in the “boater” category who will do all the driving. By rule, Champion can not make any suggestions or offer advice to the boater as to where the pair should fish.

That is, unless Champion is asked, at which point he can share as much information as he can. Champion’s extensive experience in previous tournaments suggests to him that friction between himself and his new partner isn’t going to be a problem.

“Most boaters are fantastic guys,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to meet some really nice guys.”

Thanks to the Internet, friends of Champion will have the opportunity to follow him as he competes. By going to www.bassmaster.com and clicking on the “ESPN Outdoors” link, followed by the “East Lake toho” link, web surfers can see each day’s results in the late evenings.

“Whether things will fall my way, I don’t know,” Champion says. “But I know there isn’t anyone who wants it more. And I think I’ve got a better chance of finishing first than finishing last.”