Bassmaster Classic field faces unique challenges in Louisiana Delta

The 50 anglers competing for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic title will face challenges unlike most other waters in the country because of the very nature of the Louisiana Delta.

Gary Klein tells the story of cutting a crab trap off his prop during a Bassmaster tournament on the Louisiana Delta.

“When I trimmed my engine up, you could not see that there was even a prop — or even a lower unit,” he said. “I had to cut it out with wire cutters. If I’d been headed in to a weigh-in, I would have missed it.”

That’s one example of the kind of challenge that makes the Delta the perfect fishery for the world championship of bass fishing, the 2011 Bassmaster Classic out of New Orleans, Feb. 18-20.

While challenging on many fronts, the Delta promises good catches, and the bass population is as healthy as he’s seen, Klein said.

“It’s a fantastic fishery. It’s got a lot of fish in it, and I always enjoy fishing it,” he said.

Klein has 28 Classics under his belt, more than any other of the 50 qualifiers for the 2011 edition. He’s faced the Delta twice in a Classic. In 1999, he finished fourth. In 2003, he was runner-up to his fellow Bassmaster Elite Series pro, Michael Iaconelli. He’s hoping this will be the year for his Classic victory.

But, if he had to pick one angler to win (other than himself), he’d pick Cliff Pace. Klein volunteered the information; the veteran is well aware of the value of knowing one’s competition.

“Cliff was born and raised down there,” Klein said. “He’s got more time in on that Delta system than any angler in the field. On top of that, Cliff is an extraordinary angler.”

Pace, who lives not far from the Delta — in Petal, Miss., to be exact — chuckled when he heard what Klein said.

“I hope I know it as well as everybody thinks I do,” said Pace, who is going into his fourth Classic, but first on the Delta. “I have spent a lot of time there. Parts of the Delta I consider home water. I grew up fishing tournaments there. It’s where I cut my teeth.

“It’s definitely a Classic I’m looking forward to, but you never know what’s going to happen.”

Pace, like Klein, put in scouting time before the off-limits kicked in Dec. 13.

“It might all change from what I saw,” Pace said. “A lot depends on the weather conditions we’ll have. And the wind. It’s a tidal fishery that’s all the time changing anyway. And change is to be expected in February. But it’s good, still bouncing back from the hurricanes, but it’s in good shape.”

One big difference between all previous Delta Classics, which were in the summertime, is the availability of bass-holding grass, he said. Another difference is spawning stage, he said. The bass may be in prespawn by Classic time.

Whatever the conditions, Pace said he’s hoping they’ll turn tough so he can work his advantage of experience. That means he has more Plan Bs than most others have.

“If things get a little ‘bumpy,’ I’ll know what areas to try to fish and what areas to leave alone. Not wasting your time is about all you can expect from experience on any body of water,” he said.

Delta Classic veterans who haven’t navigated the Delta since Hurricane Katrina might have trouble, he said.

“But still, these are the best bass fishermen in the world,” Pace said. “I have no doubt in my mind that they’ll figure it out.”