Classic practice a bust, weather to determine much

With the 2011 Bassmaster Classic start only a few days away, many of the competitors were still unsure about their plans. Three official days of practice over the weekend yielded few clues, and the field only has one more practice day (tomorrow, Feb. 16) to figure things out.

“It was a bad as it gets,” Gonzales’ Greg Hackney said of the weekend practice. “The water temperatures were so low that the fish just didn’t bite. I knew when I put the boat in the water Friday that it how bad it was going to be.

“I practiced Friday, but I probably should have put the boat back on the trailer and gone home. I didn’t even practice on Saturday. I did practice on Sunday, but probably shouldn’t have.”

Most other competitors echoed that sentiment today (Feb. 15) as they sat around the Classic boat yard prepping their equipment.

“It was mediocre,” Mississippi’s Paul Elias lamented. “I had several good areas after the September practice, but they were mud flats (this weekend).”

Elias said the much-changed conditions cost him several hours of practice time.

“I got stuck on a mud flat the last day for about three hours,” he said. “I had to call the sheriff’s office, and they came and got me off with an airboat.”

New Jersey’s Michael Iaconelli, who won the 2003 Classic fishing Venice’s Delta Duck area, was the sole competitor who was optimistic.

“I had a great practice,” Ike said.

He said he did return to the area in which he earned his Classic title, but said it was a completely different place.

“I was like, ‘Where’s that pond?’” he laughed.

But he said he had found three potential areas before the waters went off limits in December, and was happy with what he discovered over the weekend.

“I found three areas with potential, depending on the water depth, water clarity and vegetation,” Ike said. “Two of the three did hold up and, of those two, one really stood out in practice.”

Almost all of the competitors interviewed today were planning to make the long run to Venice, but the forecast had those anglers jittery. Fog is forecast for Thursday and Friday, and a foggy river could present difficulty for many of those heading south.

Some had mounted radars on their rear seat pedestal, and other said they spent their entire practice time downriver from Venice.

“I don’t have a choice,” North Carolina’s Dave Wolak admitted.

Mississippi’s Cliff Pace said he was still unsure exactly where he would go, and predicted that most anglers won’t make a decision until blast-off Friday.

“The weather is going to determine this whole tournament,” Pace said. “I’m sure all these guys are on fish, but it’s a question of whether you can get to them or not.

“Nobody in this tournament is going to know where they’re going until the day of the tournament.”

Oklahoma’s Jeff Kriet agreed.

“If there’s a two- or three-hour fog delay, nobody will go to Venice,” Kriet said.

Increasing the uncertainty is the fact that it is roughly a two-hour run from the launch site at Bayou Segnette State Park to the jump in Venice. And conditions could be vastly different in those locations.

“You may run for hours and realize it’s foggy,” Pace said. “You’re pretty much committed at that point. There ain’t no coming back (to fish other waters).”

Those who do make the long run successfully don’t have much time to fish, either.

“You’ve got three hours of fishing time,” Kriet said. “I’d be tickled if I can fish 2 ½ hours.”

Kriet’s fishing partner and Classic competitor Mike McClelland of Arkansas said he was hoping for a little more of a window.

“I’m trying to be optimistic and thinking I can fish 3 ½ hours,” McClelland laughed.

That makes it a huge gamble to fish Venice.

“If you pick an area, you’re pretty much fishing that area all day,” Kriet said.

Pace agreed.

“If you pick the wrong area, you can’t make adjustments,” Pace said.

So why would so many of the anglers take the chance? Certainly, the $500,000 first-place prize pushes these guys to take gamble. But McClelland said there’s also another reason to lose 5 hours of fishing time making the round trip to Venice.

“It’s a different breed of bass down there,” he said. “They’re more aggressive. Those fish live to eat.”

Kriet said that can mean more effective fishing.

“I’m not going to say you can’t catch bigger fish up here (closer to the landing), but there are a lot of bass down there,” he said. “And there are some good ones down there.”

Those choosing to remain closer to the launch will still face some interesting conditions, including water levels much lower than during fall practice.

“I was going to fish in Bayou Black, but the water was 5 feet lower than before the cutoff,” Idaho’s Brandon Palaniuk said. “So I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Hackney said he expected the water temperatures and water depths to increase over the next few days, and said remained steadfast in his belief that it will take record-breaking limits to win.

“I still think it’ll take 22 pounds a day,” he said. “With this weather we’re having, the fish are going to turn on.”

The 50 anglers competing for the Classic title launch tomorrow (Feb. 16) at 7 a.m. from Bayou Segnette State Park, and can fish until 3 p.m. They will then take a day off, with competition beginning on Friday morning.

Blast-off is at 7 a.m. daily, and is open to the public. Weigh-ins will take place Friday through Sunday in the New Orleans Arena.

Be sure and subscribe to the official Bassmaster Classic Updates RSS feed to receive notifications of new information about the world championship.

The Bassmaster Classic section will include news updates, daily standings (once competition begins), and video and photo galleries.

Also, there is still time to register for a free fishing trip with Greg Hackney as part of the Bassmaster Classic VIP Experience Giveaway, which will be given away in a random drawing on Monday, Feb. 21.

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.