Payson pro angler Mike Kile is set to return for a second successive year to what he glowingly calls "the Super bowl and the World Series of bass fishing."
The nationally televised 34th Annual Citgo Bassmaster Classic is July 30 to Aug. 1 near Charlotte, N.C., with 53 professionals from around the country qualifying for competition.
Only 15 Arizona anglers have ever qualified for the Classic that has traditionally been dominated by Midwest and Southern anglers.
Other qualifiers from Arizona include Phoenix residents Brett Hite and John Murray, and Dean Rojas of Havasu City.
Fishermen qualify by their season point standings from the CITGO Bassmaster Tour and the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Open Series.
Kile, who lives on the H-Bar Ranch south of Payson, qualified on the Bassmaster tour and will enter the fray as last season's Rookie of the Year. For the award, he received $10,000 in prize money. During his first year, he chalked up three top-35 outings and fished 12th in the Busch BASS Angler of the Year point standings.
One of his most remarkable efforts was a second-place finish at a ESPN-televised BASS tournament at Clear Lake, Calif. There, he earned $40,000 and came within a whisper of first place and $100,000 in prize money.
At a Bassmaster tournament at the San Joaquin River Delta, Kile finished ninth while pitted against some of the most accomplished veterans on the pro circuit.
At last year's Classic on the Louisiana Delta near New Orleans, Kile had one of the best showings of his career earning $20,000 for his sixth-place finish. On the second day of the event he boated one of the best catches of the tournament -- 12 pounds, 4 ounces.
According to Kile's website, the Rim country pro is holding down 12th place in the BASS standings, has six top-10 finishes and $144,066 in career BASS earnings.
He also is a five-time WON Classic Qualifier, and won the 1999 ABA Classic and the 2000 AllStar Superstar Championship. In 1994, he was a BASS National Finals Qualifier.
In the State Farm Bassfan.com world standings, he is currently ranked ninth.
In his last three tournament outings, he finished second at Santee Cooper Lake, 42nd at Lake Eufaula and 93rd at Table Rock lake.
The 37-year-old Kile has fished professionally for about 13 years but last season was his first on the full tournament trail, he said.
He credits his interest in fishing to his father."My dad started taking me when I was 3 or 4 years old, and I've just kind of had a knack for it," he said. "And I love the outdoors."
Kile said his favorite fishing spot is San Carlos and his favorite food is Crappie tacos.
"My wife makes them. They're the best," he said.
Kile is sponsored by Yamaha, Skeeter Boats and Bill Luke Dodge.
ESPN2 will televise live coverage, weigh-ins and give updates throughout the three days of the Classic.
While the tournament will be on Lake Wylie, the weigh-ins will take place in the Charlotte Coliseum in front of thousands of fans.
The Classic will be the first BASS event on the 13,433-acre Lake Wylie since a Bassmaster tournament in 1982. The lake, which straddles the North Carolina/South Carolina border, has been called by 1999 Classic champion Davy Hite, "a great lake, I'm sure there will be lots of fish caught."
Because the lake is located in the shadows of the state's most populous city, Charlotte, Kile and his fellow qualifiers will have to share the waters with a constant parade of million-dollar yachts, cruisers, water skiers, jet skiers and other fishing boats.