Spectator traffic at the Classic

For two days Jason Quinn had endured the near-suffocating, on-the-water crowd that followed him from stop to stop across Lake Wylie during the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer.

 Despite having as many as 60 boats thundering after him, the 32-year-old local favorite managed to secure sixth place.

 But even Quinn was not prepared for what happened when he pulled into Snug Harbor at 10:30 a.m. for the final morning of the world championship. Before he had even reeled in his first cast, a boater came screaming through the crowd and started running circles around him less than 15 feet away.

 "He accused me of creating so much wake I'd knocked his dog off his dock," Quinn said afterward. "He had the dog in the boat with him, and he was really getting wild. I didn't say anything, and pretty quickly two other boaters came out of the crowd and got him under control and held him until law enforcement officials could get there.

 "Considering the number of boats that followed me, the crowds were well-behaved and courteous. The problem was that the bass were shallow and the boat wakes muddied my water. I only had time for one or two casts before the spot was ruined."

 While Quinn's encounter with Lake Wylie spectators was the most drastic, other top finishers acknowledged that while the fan boats were courteous, their sheer numbers did influence both the water and the fishing.

 Winner Takahiro Omori had only four spectator boats around him the first day, but that jumped to as many as 50 the second day. And as it happened with Quinn, the spectators' boats muddied the shallow shoreline.

 "Ten boats followed me into a tiny cove where I'd caught bass the first day," he said, "and it was really only large enough for one boat. I was disappointed that they did not seem to recognize what was happening."

 Runner-up Aaron Martens, fishing the Highway 49 Bridge pilings near Buster Boyd Landing, had to repeatedly motion spectator boats to move farther away so he could make the long casts he needed to cover the area.

 "The last day, boats were bumping the pilings I was trying to fish and back and forth traffic under the bridge was so heavy their wakes made it harder for me to keep my own boat in the right position."

 Kevin VanDam, who finished third by catching bass suspended 15 feet down over 25 feet in clear water, could watch on his depthfinder as both baitfish and bass moved away when spectator boats came in on his position. "My fish were schooled pretty tight in a fairly small area, so it did not take a lot of disturbance to upset them.

 "When I practiced for this Classic, I actually practiced with crowds in mind -because Charlotte is a fishing area with a lot of enthusiastic fans."

 More than 30 boats followed fourth place finisher Dean Rojas during the second and third days, but he did not consider them a problem.

 "What I'll always remember most," the Texas pro smiled, "is hooking a nice bass the last day and all I could hear was people screaming in excitement. I didn't mind that at all. They were supporting me on every pitch and flip I made."

 Not all of the crowds were following their favorite pros up and down the lake. Many - more than a hundred bass boats, cruisers and jet-skiers - crowded around the launch ramps to watch both the 6:30 a.m. launches and the 2:30 p.m. returns.

 "There were so many people and boats around the check-in dock you had to allow several extra minutes just to weave through them," noted Kevin Wirth, who finished in 22nd place.

 "On the second day, I had a guy pull right in front of me and start fishing the same boat dock I was fishing. When I asked him what he was doing, he said he didn't realize I was a competitor in the Classic. I had four fans follow me along the shore for half a mile in golf carts, and that kind of enthusiasm makes you feel good."