For instance, Kevin VanDam has three Classics including one in New Orleans and 19 other B.A.S.S. wins. Our own Greg Hackney, on the other hand, has come close only once in eight previous Classic appearances, but he's finished in the money 78 out of 99 B.A.S.S. events with 34 of those being top-10 showings.
But the Classic is a different animal, with limited practice time just before the event. So anything can happen, and that makes it difficult to predict who will rise to the top. Most of the times it's one of the pros who picks up the Classic title, but every now and then a guy breaks out for a surprise victory.
LouisianaSportsman.com polled some experts who closely follow the professional trails and asked them to provide their top three picks, along with one dark horse whom they believe could surprise the world.
A few names predictably popped up over and over, but there were some surprises. Here's who these die-hard B.A.S.S. watchers will be keeping an eye on and why they think their picks are real contenders:
• JAMES HALL
Bassmaster magazine editor
Gerald Swindle – When you are looking for anglers with a consistent record on the Delta, you have to add G-man to the mix. The Alabama pro was fifth in 2001 and 11th in 2003. Plus, success spawns success – and Swindle is coming off his first-ever B.A.S.S. win at the recent Florida Open.
Kevin VanDam – You have to pick KVD because everyone else is going to pick KVD. So, you'll eliminate the competition. Oh, you should also pick him because he is the best angler on the planet, won here in 2001 – and because everyone will make fun of you if you do not pick KVD.
Terry Scroggins – This Floridian is one of the best flippers on the Elite Series, and I have a feeling this Classic will be won with a flippin' stick. His home waters fish much like the Louisiana Delta – so he will not be intimidated by the size of the playing field or the style in which bass will need to be caught.
Kelly Jordon (dark horse) – This is a gut pick and certainly a dark horse for this world championship. This Texan is due to shine at the Classic. Plus, he fishes a lot of saltwater in his off time, and really understands the mechanics of a tidal fishery.
• ANDY CRAWFORD
LouisianaSportsman.com; former B.A.S.S. Times senior writer
Greg Hackney – OK, so this sounds obvious because he lives an hour from the Classic waters, but look at his record. The guy has only come close once (a fifth in 2008) in his eight previous Classic appearances. I mean, he finished a disappointing 31st in the 2003 New Orleans Classic and has managed to find a way to shank it every other time by swinging for the fences. That history aside, he is taking this appearance seriously, and has worked his local residency to its fullest. He's going to know how to adjust to pick up fish regardless of conditions. And he's learned to savor victory by winning three B.A.S.S. events (including an Elite Series tournament) and the 2009 FLW Championship. So he can perform under pressure. He's being very closed mouth, but if he doesn't make a great showing it won't be because he didn't practice enough.
Kevin VanDam – This is one I'm sure everyone will pick, but dang it the guy is just amazing. Betting against him would be like betting against the house at a Las Vegas casino. Yes, he's as good as everyone says, and he is a master at running-and-gunning, which might be a key to this Classic – especially if the current low water conditions persist. Plus, he already has championship experience on these waters, so it's not like he's exactly starting from scratch on unfamiliar waters. Lastly, he always seems to be in the running: He's only finished outside the top five in eight of his 20 previous Classics.
Cliff Pace – He's only made three previous Classic appearances, but this guy can fish. He won a Bassmaster Open event in the Atchafalaya Delta back in 2004, and there's really not a lot of difference between how that stretch of water fishes compared to this year's Classic waters. In addition, he's put together eight top 5 finishes in his 53 events, and logged a second-place finish in his very first Classic appearance back in '08. So he's not blinded by the glitz of the Big Show.
Gary Klein (dark horse) – Klein has put in top-five finishes in the two New Orleans Classics he's fished, including second place in 2003. And he's competed in 28 B.A.S.S. championship events, so he knows how to put fish in the boat. He's also won eight B.A.S.S. events, although an Elite Series win has eluded him. Of course, he's never pulled out a victory, but anything can happen in the Classic and he's one of the old, steady pros who finds ways to make things happen on the water.
• DON DUBUC
Outdoors with Don Dubuc
Kevin VanDam – You gotta like 21-time Classic qualifier, defending champion and former Louisiana Delta winner Kevin VanDam. Besides having the credentials, I like him because the Delta is maybe the most unique habitat type these guys ever fish, and I've watched VanDam demonstrate an uncanny ability to figure situations out. And there's an excellent chance he'll figure this fishery out once again.
Mike Iaconelli – I also like this former Delta winner's chances to repeat. He's proven he's tough here, and all the hotdogging is purged out of his system and he's matured into a consistent, focused angler. You can count on him to be, if not an outright champion, among the top money winners.
Gerald Swindle – Swindle is a passionate, hard-nosed guy who has earned bridesmaid status in past Classics here (11th in 2003 and 5th in 2001) and will undoubtedly do well here again. The difference this year may be that he's coming into this event with enough Big Mo' (from a recent Southern Open win) that could shoot him past the front runners. Like NFL playoff teams, the anglers who are hottest just before the championship competition begins usually finish at the top.
Greg Hackney (dark horse) - Although history shows that hometown favorites generally perform poorly in Classics, especially in the Louisiana Delta, my dark horse has to be Greg Hackney of Gonzales. Don't be surprised if this local shows very well. Now fishing his ninth Classic, this isn't his first rodeo, and Greg won't be blinded by the big city lights. I think he could be in a position to steal the show from left field.
• DENNIS TIETJE
Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Roanoke
Edwin Evers – I saw Edwin last week, and he had the look in his eye. He has had an exceptional year. He is fishing strong, and he knows a lot about the area. He is a power fisherman, and this cold weather is setting up right for him. Edwin loves to cover a lot of water. I wouldn't be surprised if this isn't his Classic to loose.
Kevin Vandam - Always a factor. This tournament will be determined by who finds the most clusters of fish. Kevin covers so much water productively that this will fall right into his hands. I look for him to make a big push, and, hey, we all know he has the taste of the trophy already. There are not many squirrels in the marsh. I think this year it maybe more a Vandam, Evers show down.
Greg Hackney - I believe if we get in a weather situation where conditions start to change rapidly, Greg will be one of the best. Not only will he be able to change locations, but he will be able to do it faster than most of the field. He knows the shortcuts that can save very valuable time, especially if it is a tough tournament. If the water rises any, Greg will the right knowledge to get it done.
Dave Wolack (dark horse) – Dave has had his share of strong tournaments. He has the desire to win. He is what I would consider a sleeping giant. This tournament could fit his style of fishing.
Greg Hackney – How can you not root for this guy? He's carrying the state flag. The dude can flat-out catch them anywhere, and by golly it just so happens that he is fishing in his comfort zone on the Delta. Grass is going to play a role for the guys not running to flip the cane in Venice, and with a flipping stick in his hand he's TOUGH. Look for Hackney to be able to fish the conditions better than anyone else due to his vast knowledge of where to be in the Delta based on the elements such as tide, wind, water color and water temperatures.
Cliff Pace – Here's another "local," and please don't let his address in Mississippi fool you. I can assure you that he has taken more money from Louisiana fisherman than his home-state rivals in past tournaments. His style of fishing could be labeled versatile, but I'm calling his style "catching." There is no coincidence that he has made a run at the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year a few times, as well as the Classic on Lake Hartwell three years ago. He's due, and it could be a coming-out party for Pace on the Delta.
Edwin Evers – He won the Bassmaster Open out of Morgan City back in the fall of 2009 and was consistent even before that tournament win. It's no secret that he made a long run back toward New Orleans for that Open win; in post-tournament interviews he had this Classic in the back of his mind and wouldn't tip his hand because he planned on winning the 2011 Classic. A great shallow-water fisherman who can punch mats with the best of them and cover water with a blade or square-billed crankbait when he has to.
Brian Snowden (dark horse) – The only reason this guy is a dark horse is because he's not a flashy guy. He puts his boat in the water, fishes until dark just like the rest of them and then goes back to reflect on the day that was. The thing that is going to help Brian is his mental approach. A huge win at the Professional Anglers Association Championship last fall in Texas shook some demons from him and gave him the mental toughness to win on a big stage. Being from Missouri may be a weakness down here, but he can keep it simple enough to whack them for three days. A great showing at the 2009 Classic on the Red River put that taste in his mouth, so now it's just go time for Snowden.
• ALAN CLEMONS
Freelance writer for Bassmaster, The Birmingham News, Lone Star Outdoor News, Outdoor life and others
Matt Herren – Dude's just geeked about the chance to do what he likes to do most often, which is putting a flippin' stick in his hand and punching vegetation. Herren is happiest when he's wielding the heavy pole, braid with a meat hook on the end and a big hunk of critter plastic. Usually a Sweet Beaver. It's always been said the Classic is a "win or go home" kind of event, and that's true. Quick ... who was third in 1999? OK, who was third in 2010? No slight to those guys, but to the victor go the spoils. If Matt's among the leaders on the first day, watch out.
Kevin Wirth – Underrated. Overlooked. Never a favorite. But the cagey Bluegrass veteran has been among those on the final day pecking at the door several times. Wirth is adept at making changes on the fly and chasing his gut instincts. Winning his first event on Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee a couple of years ago put him over that "Can I do it?" hump. Wirth can scrap with the best of 'em, and the Delta is a wide-open playing field.
Tommy Biffle – Bridesmaid? Yep, several times. He's tired of the ugly taffeta dresses and shoes, too. The last time standing there shuffling his feet was in 1994 in North Carolina. Lost by 4 ounces. Four! That's less than a shrimp dunked in cocktail sauce. He finished 17th here on the Delta in the 1999 Classic. Biffle's no stranger to vegetation, pre-spawn bass or picking apart a puzzle. He's been at the altar before, too. This year he could be the one walking down the aisle.
Cliff Pace (dark horse) – Dunno anything about the guy other than this: He's familiar with the Delta, maybe more than anyone else in the field, after growing up as a southern Magnolia State angler with regular visits. If there are tweaks to be made, he'll make them. If there's some intricate twist that arises, he'll twist accordingly. Pace is quiet, determined and has studied at the Church of Gary Klein. That means he's detailed, focused, singularly minded and obviously enjoys his craft. Wouldn't surprise me a bit to see Pace walk away with the hardware.
• KEN SHERMAN
Front to Back Boat Services; Southeast Louisiana tournament angler
Greg Hackney – He spent more time on the water in South Louisiana the last six months than any of the other competitors. He has a knowledge of so many little areas that hold fish, and that will help him fill out a limit each day with the water level as low as it is. With the low water levels we have now and no rise in the near future, I think fish will gang up in deep areas, so it's going to take a lot of little areas to fill out limits. He's going to have so many areas to pick one or two fish off of. He will be able to make adjustments off his all his scouting. He's a strong punching hand, and that's a lot of what's going to happen with this Classic. As to his track record with the Classic, it's like the Saints with the Super Bowl: It has to happen. He's too good of a fisherman.
Gary Klein – The old guy's been here a lot, and has a lot of knowledge of the Delta. Through the grapevine, what I'm hearing is that he's got a lot of deep holes figured out. If the patterns stay the same as it has been, that's going to give him an edge. He doesn't necessarily go with the crowd; he goes away from the crowd, and that will help him. He's just an old-school guy, and he's due for a Classic.
Kelly Jordan – He's going to be in the right areas. In the areas that he's scouted in the last two months, there have been several 18- to 19-pound stringers come out of those areas. I know how good he is with a punching stick in his hand, and he's a pretty good fisherman. He's going to be right there.
Brent Chapman (dark horse) – He's in the right areas. The question will be, 'Can he put it all together if the fish pull up and the right conditions come along?' He's the kind of guy you have to give props to. Look at what he's done: He was in the top 5 the last Classic. He's a class-act guy. He's a pretty diversified fisherman; it's just a matter of if he reads the water he's on. That'll be his downfall, if he doesn't pick up on that.
• JEFF CONNELLA
Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Bentley
Cliff Pace – I think he is THE threat. That's where he's from. He cut his teeth down there his whole life, and he's spent a ton of time down there. If he leaves Mississippi, he heads to Louisiana. This time of year is when he fishes the most down there before our season gets started. So watch this guy.
Greg Hackney – Hurricane Katrina changed everything, so he's had probably the most experience down there since the hurricane. So he knows where to go. He fishes down there a good bit. His style plays into this event. He can do it all, but this style of fishing is what he likes to do.
Gary Klein – Klein had good showing there (in the 2003 Classic in New Orleans), and may have won it had he not been run out of someplace. He's got a good history there, and he's due to win one of these things.
Bill Lowen (dark horse) – He doesn't have much history there, but he has a lot of history fishing shallow. He can catch them shallow when there's none to catch shallow. That's his deal. If there are any fish at all to catch shallow, he'll catch them. And he WILL find them.
Click here to make your own predictions about who will rise to the top of the field and pocket the $500,000 first-place prize money.
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