Stage set for big Classic weights, weather still a wild card

The Bassmaster Classic scheduled for Feb. 18-20 in the Louisiana Delta has all makings for a real slugfest, with the overall health of the fishery pointing to hefty weight. Record weights, perhaps.

“Winning won’t be a matter of who has five, but of who has five big ones,” predicted Bassmaster Elite Series pro Keith Poche, a Louisiana native who’s neutral in the discussion because he isn’t in this competition.

Yet one weather event that’s common in February — and all-too common in this frigid winter of 2011 — could change the game quickly and completely: a cold snap.

Southern Louisiana has already experienced a big February chill. For several days of the month’s first week, night air temperatures dove into the low 30s. Some area predictions were for lows in the 20s, according to Elite pro Dennis Tietje of Roanoke.

“If something like that happens the week of the Classic, it will be very tough fishing,” said Tietje, who, like Poche, is not in this Classic. “The colder weather will shut down these fish — they’re pretty sensitive in the marsh because of the shallow water.”

The flip side of that scenario is that shallow, marshy water heats up fast.

“It doesn’t take very much sunshine in the shallow conditions of the delta,” Tietje said. “The water’s stained, and it will warm up a lot faster than clear water. It won’t take but a couple of days of sunshine to trigger a feeding frenzy.”

Delta bass will feed in low to mid-50s water temperatures, he said.

“Anything under that is cold for the delta,” Tietje explained.

In a big chill, as little as 3 degrees can make a big difference, he said. The successful Classic competitors will be those who know where that slightly warmer water is and — most important in delta sprawl — how to get there the quickest way possible.

How about that shallow water icing over? Not likely, said Tietje, who was out on the delta Jan. 31 doing promotional work with sponsors, not fishing.

“It would have to stay very, very cold for that tidal water to freeze,” Tietje said. “Delta water just does not freeze over — not that I’ve ever heard of, anyway.”

Tietje is optimistic that anglers will be able to tote big bags to the scales each day on the Bassmaster weigh-in stage inside the New Orleans Arena.

“Depending on Mother Nature, the delta is setting up to be excellent fishing,” he said.

Now living in Troy, Ala., Poche keeps in touch with his roots. He grew up in Natchitoches and took many a trip to the delta to hunt for big bass.

He predicted that flipping will be important in the pre-spawn delta, with spinnerbaiting early in the morning.

“It changes so much there. I’m sure it’s different from what I last saw,” Poche said. “I have a lot of buddies that live down there still, and they’ve been telling me that they’ve never seen the fishery this good. They’re talking that it’s going to be a very good Classic.”