Cliff Crochet climbed into the truck for the drive to Lay Lake to begin his first Bassmaster Classic, and felt pretty good. Nowever, during the 45-minute, chaffeured drive from Birmingham to the reservoir the whole experience hit him.
“That was the first time I realized I was fishing the Bassmaster Classic,” Crochet told LouisianaSportsman.com.
But the Pierre Part Classic rookie made the most of his day, putting together a quick limit despite icy-cold water and a tough practice that yielded only eight fish. Crochet’s first-day limit weighed 9 pounds, 5 ounces.
“I got to my first spot, and I fished 30 minutes without a bite,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh crap.’”
He finally settled down after he put his first bass in the boat.
“That first bass was huge,” Crochet said. “Normally, (the first fish of a tournament) is not a big deal, but today it was everything because it was the Classic.
“Was I scared I’d zero? Of course, so that first fish was huge for me.”
And he quickly filled out his limit with by adding four more fish to his livewell.
“I caught a limit in 45 minutes,” Crochet said.
All of those fish came on jerk baits and wacky-style worms, but by 10 a.m. he decided he had to make a change to manage his fish.
“I got to the point: ‘How many fish do I want to take from this area,’” Crochet said. “I picked up a flipping stick and flipped the rest of the day trying to get a better bite.”
He managed one cull fish, boosting his weight to 9-5.
Crochet said he realized Lay Lake was changing during Wednesday’s final practice day.
“Last week, the lake was muddy, but Wednesday all this muddy water in those creeks was clearing up,” he said.
He tried flipping for quality fish during that practice, and came up empty.
“I flipped docks and mats, and I did not get a single bite,” Crochet said. “I picked up a wacky worm, and I caught two keepers in 20 minutes.”
Although he never caught another keeper that day, Crochet knew what he needed to do to put fish in the boat on competition day.
“It also gave me another area,” Crochet said.
He said he was going to put his head down during tomorrow and stick with what produced the limit today.
“I’m going to use a jerk bait and a wacky worm, and I guess I’ll just beat those fish up,” Crochet said. “Tomorrow’s a make-or-break day.”
He goes into the second day of competition in a pretty good position, but he was well behind leader Kevin VanDam who slammed 19 ½ pounds.
“I figured somebody would catch them pretty good,” Crochet said. “This is a quality lake, and I knew somebody would catch some good fish.”
But he certainly was very pleased with the day of his first Classic.
“I caught a limit at the Classic, so I’m not complaining,” Crochet said.
Oddly enough, however, he said that limit had a deeper meaning.
“Not meaning to disrespect the Classic, but catching a limit in the Classic means very little to me,” Crochet said. “Catching a limit in these horrible conditions – to me, that was huge.
“It shows I’ve grown up as a fisherman.”