"Most of the time (practice) was horrible," said Pierre Part's Cliff Crochet, who goes into the event in sixth place in the points race. "We caught a few fish at times, so not what we wanted but decent."
Competition begins tomorrow (Nov. 5) and runs through Saturday (Nov. 7).
Texas' James Niggemeyer and Oklahoma's Jeff Kriet, both of whom are touring pros on the Bassmaster Elite Series circuit, echoed the Crochet's assessment of fishing conditions.
"Practice was tough," said Niggemeyer, who sits just out of the lead in the circuit's points race. "Catching fish is not the easiest thing. It's tough out there, and getting quality is even tougher."
One of the major factors in practice was the sheer size of the system, which allows anglers to burn as much fuel as they wanted.
"I've been to Eerie, obviously it's huge . I've been to the Delta out in California, and this place makes that look like a straight line," Niggemeyer said. "It's amazing. There's a lot of places to fish, and that could be the unknown factor in trying to understand what it's going to take to win this thing.
Everyone agreed that the Atchafalaya Basin is high, but that doesn't mean everyone is making long runs from the launch at the Belle River Landing.
"Actually I'm staying close, doing what I normally do when I fish here: a 10- to 15-minute run, fishing the middle part of the Basin," Crochet said. "I fished it forever, and that's where I'm comfortable. The fish are there to do well, so that's where we'll stay.
"The high water's an issue, but the fish don't leave. We'll just try to beat them up a little bit."
Niggemeyer said he also might stay close to the landing, but admitted "close" is a relative term in the Basin.
"As the Atchafalaya Basin goes, I'm going to say that I'm not making a very long run," he said. "But that could be like an hour."
Points leader Todd Castledine of Texas was the only angler interviewed who was really confident with his chances. He said his 10 days of practice were solid, allowing him to put together a replicable pattern.
"I just started finding the right water, and it got better and better," Castledine said. "I know I had one day that I had 20, 25 bites by 10 (a.m.)."
While not willing to share specifics, Castledine did share that he has one critical bait.
"I will catch them all on one bait," he said. "I might have a second bait to catch a really big fish, but other than that I will probably throw one bait."
He said he's dialed in on fish "on both sides" of the Basin, but wasn't sure how far he'd run.
"I haven't figured it out yet," Castledine admitted. "It could either be a 15-minute run or an hour-and-15-minute run, depending on if I decide to go through the lock."
Blast-off begins at 6:15 a.m. each morning at the Belle River Landing, with weigh-ins beginning there at 2:20 p.m. All activities are open and free to the public.