The official practice day for the 2017 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Conroe was on Wednesday, and the consensus among the field of competitors is that the championship is up for grabs because of the way the fishery is setting up.
"There will be guys fishing all three stages of the spawn," Gonzales Elite Series pro Greg Hackney said. "And there will guys doing well at all three."
Hackney said it was a "typical practice," but that he liked what he found.
"I've been pretty much bit from one end of the lake to the other," he said.
He and Pierre Part pro Cliff "Cajun Baby" Crochet agreed that this was an event calling for an all-or-nothing strategy.
"I don't care if I lose," Crochet said. "I just care if I win. This is the Classic: You're fishing to win."
Conroe is a pretty small lake by footprint, but most anglers in the field said it actually fished big in practice — mainly because there were pods of fish staging to spawn, some that are moving up to spawn and others that have moved out from spawning.
"With the spawn the way it is, I think that'll open (the lake) up a little bit," Crochet said.
He said he's just going to put his head down and fish, and focus on capitalizing on every bite.
Hackney said one of the question marks is the impact of pleasure boats on water conditions. The lake is ringed by seawalls, so waves just slosh back and forth to create difficult conditions.
"The boat traffic is hideous," he said. "But it's not going to hurt the way I fish."
Gonzales' Ryan Lavigne, who qualified for his first Bassmaster Classic by winning the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, said he was working to put the glitz of the event out of his mind and just focus on fishing.
"I'm not used to any of this," Lavigne said as media interviewed the anglers Thursday afternoon. "It's exciting."
His time on the water was a break from the pressures of answering questions and attending official functions.
"Once I get on the water, it's all been head down and focused," Lavigne said. "It's just another tournament."
He said his practice was pretty diverse.
"I did a whole lot of different things," Lavigne said. "To me, you have to change up on this lake. You've got to fly by the seat of your pants and shoot from the hip."
But the glamor of being a Bassmaster Classic competitor didn't completely fall away.
"I'm enjoying every minute of it, don't get me wrong," Lavigne said. "One day I would love to fish the Elite Series, and witnessing what's gone on this week, I will only fish that much harder to get back (to the Classic)."
The first day of competition is Friday (March 24), with weigh-in taking place at Houston's Minute Maid Park.