Classic begins tomorrow, pros discuss strategy

Fifty-one of the top professional bass anglers will launch on Alabama’s Lay Lake tomorrow morning as the 2010 Bassmaster Classic kicks off. And those pros have struggled through four days of practice, battling a reservoir that is icy cold and muddy.

On top of that, a massive shad die-off is providing bass with plenty of readily available natural forage.

But the good news is the weather forecast to warm into the 60s (it hasn’t been out of the 40’s since the field arrived last Friday), so fishing could pick up.

Six of the pros were asked about the weather and their strategies to put together a three-day Classic winning stringer.

Here’s what they had to say during the Bassmaster Classic media day:

Greg Hackney
Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., is at his best when the weather’s at its worst. But having 20-degree weather and snow at the first of the week, and then a prediction of 60-degree weather on the final day of his sixth Classic event might create problems that Hackney’s never dealt with before.

Question: Greg, you like to fish in bad weather, don’t you?
Hackney: I really like the thought of everybody having a bad day. This week has been tough on each of the Classic contestants. I don’t think there are any competitors who have blistered the bass this week. I believe not catching numbers of bass really plays on a fisherman’s mind. We’ve had so-many consecutive days of bad weather that I think a lot of fishermen are really dreading this Classic. But I’m like Br’er Rabbit thrown in the briarpatch. I love bad weather. Because I spent all winter hunting in bad weather, I’m acclimated to the weather.

I like the idea that I don’t have to go out on Lay Lake and expect to get 20 bites. I’ve only got to get five bites each day to have a chance to win. I feel like I can really dial in the pattern and fish one dimensionally. I think I can pick a certain way I want to fish and stick with it through most of the tournament anyway. There will be a change in the weather right in the middle of this tournament when the weather’s going to warm-up. Although the weather isn’t going to warm up drastically, that warm weather will change the way the fish behave. We may not see the change in the bass’s behavior until Saturday afternoon or Sunday. Tomorrow I don’t believe there will be a drastic change in the weather or the fishing conditions.

Question: Greg, are you going to rub the paint off of your Strike King Hack Attack jigs during this tournament?
Hackney: Probably so. That’s the plan right now, anyway.

Question: After practicing on the lake, do you think you’ve got a good chance to win this one?
Hackney: I think I’ve got as good a chance as anyone. I’m really laid-back and relaxed, and I don’t feel any pressure. I’m just going fishing. I’ll be pretty one-dimensional this week. We’ll know Sunday how good my game plan is.

James Niggemeyer
James Niggemeyer of Van, Texas, was so sick during the practice days of the Bassmaster Classic that he didn’t practice. Tomorrow’s the first day of competition of Niggemeyer’s second Classic.

Question: James, you’ve been sick, haven’t you?
Niggemeyer: During the first day of official practice here on Lay Lake …, I woke up and had sore throat. But I went out anyway and fished in snowy, 30-degree weather. I was pretty worn-out at the end of that first day. The next morning when I got up and prepared to go to the second day of practice, I realized I was in trouble. I went to a clinic and was diagnosed with walking pneumonia. So, I sat out the next two days of practice, took medicine and tried to recover. I’m not 100% yet, and I know that the beginning of the tournament is tomorrow. But I’m going to fish, God willing.

Question: What do you think about the weather?
Niggemeyer: The weather here in Birmingham has been crazy. But it doesn’t really matter because all the competitors are on the same playing field dealing with the same elements. What’s tough for one guy, like the weather, will be tough for all of us. It’ll be just as cold in my boat as in every other competitor’s boat.

Question: Do you think you’ve found some bass?
Niggemeyer: I’ve had very little time to practice, but I think I’ve got some areas located where I’m pretty sure there will be some concentrations of bass. This tournament will be about going out on Lay Lake and making those fish bite. I’ll be fishing shallow, and I hope this warm front will help my fishing. I think the warm front’s going to help out all of the competitors.

Kevin VanDam
Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., the 2009 Angler of the Year, has 18 Bassmaster Classics under his belt, including two first-place finishes.

Question: We’ve had about as bad weather conditions as anyone possibly can have for a fishing tournament here during practice days. At the first of the week, we had 20-degree weather and by the end of the tournament we should have 60-degree weather, according to the weather forecast. What’s your perspective on this tournament and your chances in it?
VanDam: This week has been the toughest weather conditions I’ve ever seen for a major tournament. We’re going to have all the bad elements that no fisherman really wants to see. We’ve got cold, muddy water. Just getting a bite has been really difficult for all of us. I know the weather’s supposed to warm up some toward the end of the week; however, I hope that warming trend isn’t too late to make a difference and improve fishing. Another factor is because the water’s so high there’s a lot of current running through the lake. That water coming into the lake is moving out of the bottom of the lake, and it’s cold water. Since all the fields around Lay Lake are flooded, as the water goes down, there will be even more muddy water coming into the lake. But mid February is the right time of year for bass to want to move-up and spawn.

Another factor we’ve got to deal with is that Lay Lake has had a massive shad kill, which means the bass haven’t had to work to find something to eat. And, between that massive shad kill and the muddy water, the bass want to suspend, making them very difficult to catch. This 2010 Classic should be really interesting. I’m focused on the tactics and techniques that I have confidence in, and I’m planning to go out and do my best to win.

Question: Did you catch very many bass during practice?
VanDam: No, I didn’t get many bass at all. I did catch a few quality fish, and that’s a positive, but being consistent in this Classic will be very difficult.

Shaw Grigsby
Shaw Grigsby of Gainesville, Fla., is fishing his 11th Classic this year.

Question: Shaw, what’s fishing been like for you during practice?
Grigsby: Terrible. The fishing’s been really tough. Because the water temperature in the lake went down so quickly, shad are dying all over the lake. When the temperature gets in the low 40s, the shad just die-off, and the bass are sucking them down like they’re candy. There’s no reason for the bass to take an artificial lure, although you may get a reaction strike. To catch the bass, you’ve got to get the bass to react to a lure and try to eat the bait instinctively, rather than because they’re hungry. During this Classic, you may fish a long, hard day and not catch a single fish. Or, you may catch two or three bass or possibly five. I guarantee that in this Classic, there will be quite a few zeros at the weigh-in stand. Anybody may zero in this tournament, from the top pros like Denny Brauer, Shaw Grigsby and Gary Klein, or these same fishermen may end up a hero and catch 20-pounds each in one day. This Classic will be that type of tournament.

Question: Shaw, what did you find in practice?
Grigsby: I found some shallow-water bass, and I’m planning to have some fun trying to catch them.

Question: In other words, you’ll be fishing for shallow-water bass during the 2010 Classic?
Grigsby: Absolutely. That muddy water coming down that main river will be tough to catch a bass in. You can see the mud line, and it’s really ugly. Now the water may be clearer farther up the river, but I haven’t run up the river. Since I eliminated the upper portion of the river in practice, I’ll stay in the creeks on the lower end of the lake.

Denny Brauer
The one thing you know about Missouri’s Denny Brauer when you interview him is you never know what he’ll say. Brauer won the Classic in 1998, and this will be his 20th appearance.

Question: Denny, give us an overview of the tournament from your perspective.
Brauer: Fifty-one contestants will be in this tournament. They’ll all be fishing, but they’ll all have a challenging time finding and catching bass. I think out of all those competitors, there will be one angler who’ll catch more weight than the rest of the anglers. He’ll be the one to get paid $500,000. Now that’s what I think will happen; however, other than that, there’s a lot of unknowns at Lay Lake this week.

Question: This tournament should play to your strengths, shouldn’t it? You tend to do well when the fishing’s difficult, the weather’s bad, and nobody’s catching any fish. That’s usually the kind of tournament that Denny Brauer does well in, isn’t it?
Brauer: It is. A lot of it has to do with my style of fishing. I really like fishing for inactive bass. I like trying to catch those tough-to-catch bass that set up on cover. In my style of fishing, I don’t use a lot of fast-moving baits, because when the fishing gets tough, many times the bass won’t eat those fast-moving baits. One of my strongest suits is the type of fishing where I fish really slowly. I think these conditions will favor the anglers who know how to fish slowly and pick apart the cover.

Question: Denny, how has the shad kill on Lay Lake affected your style of fishing?
Brauer: Right now, Lay Lake has extremely-cold water, which means the bass don’t want to eat very much. Their metabolisms slow down, and they’re almost like hibernating bears. Those bass can go a long, long time without eating any shad. If they do decide to eat, all they have to do is open their mouths, because the shad are fluttering down everywhere around them. So, from an angling standpoint, we’ll have a difficult time competing against the natural shad kill. That bass looks up, spots a shad about to die and sees a lure going by pretty fast. It thinks, “Which should I eat? That slow-falling, easy-to-catch shad or that fast-moving lure?” Even a bass can figure that one out. The bass will know that, “The shad’s a lot more realistic-looking. I’ve just finished eating 20 of them, and they were pretty good.” The fishermen at this year’s Classic really have Mother Nature working against them. I don’t care who you are or how well you fish, even though these conditions may lend themselves to my style of fishing, these conditions are still tough. They may be a little too tough for me or anyone else.

Mark Menendez
Mark Menendez of Paducah, Ken., will be fishing his fifth Classic.

Question: Mark, what have you learned during practice?
Menendez: The weather’s cold! It’s cold! However, there is a bite developing. I kind of got on that bass bite a little bit the first day of practice. The bite’s really, really specific, if you can find the elements that you need to get this bite. The bite will be very slow, and the angler has to be very patient and not be in a big hurry to be successful. If an angler gets really excited and fishes too fast, he’ll fish over the top of the bass.

Question: Did you catch any big fish in practice?
Menendez: No, the biggest bass I caught was about 3 1/2 pounds. The first day of practice on Friday I really felt like I could have caught a good number of bass. I found one place where I caught a couple of fish and had several good bites. I know I was at the right place at the right time. But I only had one more day when I thought I’d found a place where I could catch several good bass.

Question: With the weather warming up toward the end of the week, how will that weather affect your fishing?
Menendez: I really think warmer weather will help the fishing, but I’m afraid it will be too little, too late to make a drastic difference in the number of bass caught during this Classic. I’ll fish every day as though there are icebergs in the lake, and the weather’s still really cold. I think I’ll have to fish really slowly and really work every piece of cover.

Question: What do you think your chances are for winning?
Menendez: I don’t really have any preconceived notions about how I’ll finish. I think I’ll either be a hero or a zero. I’ve found some bass that I know I can catch. But I don’t think those bass are big enough to win the 2010 Classic. So, I don’t know if I’ll even go fish for them or not.

Question: Are you primarily catching spotted bass or largemouth bass?
Menendez: I’m catching both species of bass, but the largemouths I’m catching aren’t very big. They’re just little-bitty 12-inch keepers. I’ve just got one group of bass that if my timing is right, and I get to this spot when the bass decide to feed, I may do well in this tournament.

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