When the 2015 Bassmaster Classic kicks off on Friday morning on Lake Hartwell, the field of 56 anglers will be fishing against each other and the spotted and largemouth bass in the 56,000-acre reservoir lake.
But they’ll have one other, huge opponent: Mother Nature.
Temperatures are expected to be in single digits for the first day’s blast-off, which B.A.S.S. officials have pushed back from 7 to 8:30 a.m. local time because of “extreme temperatures” in the interest of safety for the anglers.
High temperatures are forecast to be in the 20s on Friday, and although the nation’s top bass pros don’t expect the fishing to be negatively affected all that much, battling the cold will be another thing altogether on the sprawling reservoir along the Georgia-South Carolina border.
“There are tough conditions, and then there are some I’ve never experienced, and these conditions would be something more than that,” said Greg Hackney of Gonzales, the 2014 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year. “The weather is going to be the same the whole time. The lake’s not changing: the fish aren’t moving a lot.
“I don’t think fishing is that tough for this time of year. The water temperature hasn’t been affected that much. It was 49 (degrees) the first day of practice (last Friday), and it was 47 yesterday. I’m sure there are certain places where it will get colder, but this place is so deep, it would take some kind of cold weather to make a major difference in the water temperature. But it will be a grind.”
Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part is confident that a deep-water pattern he’s put together will hold up through the tournament, despite the weather.
“It’s no secret; I’m preparing for it. I know what it’s gonna be like out there,” he said. “My fish, I think, will still be there. Finding bait is most important. I think the bait will override the water temperature.”
Still, fishermen are concerned about how much time they’ll have to spend keeping the guides on their fishing rods clear of ice, making sure their reels don’t freeze up or they don’t have any other weather-related equipment problems.
“The weather, for me, is going to be a challenge,” said angler Teb Jones of Hattiesburg, Miss. “When your equipment ices up, you’re not as effective.”
The entire field of 56 anglers will fish Friday and Saturday, then only the top 25 will fish in Sunday’s final round of competition. The total purse is slightly more than $1.5 million, with $300,000 going to the winner.
Boats leave each morning from the Green Pond Landing, with daily weigh-ins at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, a few miles from the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo at the TD Convention Center. Doors will open at 3 p.m.
The Classic last visited Lake Hartwell in 2008, with Alton Jones of Waco, Texas, winning with a three-day weight of 49 pounds, 7 ounces. Anglers believe that weight won’t be enough this year, despite the weather, because of the improvement in the lake’s population of spotted bass over the past seven years.
Hackney feels like it will take 17 to 18 pounds a day to win.
“If you catch five bass, they’ll be good, quality fish, and you’ll have a decent weight. I think it will take between 50 and 55 pounds,” he said. “It took 49 last time, but conditions have changed.
“The spotted bass population is so good, the size of the fish is so good, the tournament could be won with only spotted bass, but I don’t think it will because the spots and largemouths are mixed together so much.”