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What's it gonna take?

2/16/2009

Bassmaster Classic time again. The Greatest Show in Fishing.

I often get asked two questions. They're in the same ballpark. One is: What does it take to win a big-time tournament?

The other question is: What does it take to win a Bassmaster Classic?

As I was thinking about those two questions, I thought, well, there's actually a third question. How does a person win the Classic on the >Red River in north Louisiana? Well, here's what I think.

I think the Classic champion will have to do at least five things.

Conquer the mind game
There's no pressure in our sport like the tournament pressure of the Classic. It's a head game from start to finish, and the winner will have to make good decisions for three straight days. He (or she, this year, with >Kim Bain-Moore in the field) can't do what I did last year at >Hartwell.

I made a strategy decision that backfired on the first day. The weather had been super cold and the lake was low because of the drought. It hadn't rained seriously in months, so I put together a perfect plan for fish in shallow water. Then right before the tournament we had two days of hard rain and, as a result, my fish disappeared. And I didn't have enough of a deep-water plan to compete.

Know how to fish a river system

River systems fish differently, they're not like a reservoir. The field could open up if we get a week of 65 to 70 degrees and the water is normal. There could be Classic record weights if that happens. But if we get the dreaded Red River special — cold, high muddy water — a lot of the field will be shut out.

It's hard, hard, hard to catch fish in cold, muddy water … But the basics are: it's the end of February, the pattern is pre-spawn females, and they're going to be in the back — way back. That's where the guessing game starts.
I can't stress enough how small the Red River is going to fish. Ninety percent is useless. The fish will be in 10 percent of the water.

Catch a big fish every day

I mean something like a seven- or eight-pounder. There are plenty of those in the Red River. But the Red River is weather-dictated, and it's rain, not temperature, that will affect us the most.

In the third week of February, sometimes the water gets so high it comes over the dikes. If that happens, 12 pounds a day could win the tournament. But if we get anything close to normal, you're going to have to catch a big fish every day to win.

The all-time Classic record, 56-4, could fall. In fact, if we get good weather, no rain or high water, I predict the record will fall.

Fish with "experience

A veteran usually wins the Classic. >When I won, I was a first-timer, but I had tournament fished for almost 30 years and I'd had good tournaments on Lay. Nothing beats experience.

Carve out the distractions

You're forced into a different routine, and you can't help but feel disrupted, Everything changes. You don't have your boats and your tackle in front of you, the way you do at most tournaments.

You stay in a nicer hotel, away from your truck, boat and tackle. You're shuttled in a group, working on other people's time, not your time. You don't even launch your boat. You just get off the dock and into your boat in the water — and a barrage of boats follow you.

It's a media blitz all week. You just have to figure out how to overcome all that that … And we'll have another distraction this year: Kim Bain-Moore, the first woman to compete in the Classic. Kim's going to get a lot of attention because she's treading new ground.

I'm not naïve enough to think everyone in our sport is happy that Kim's in the Classic. But I will point out that, just as the rest of us did, she earned her position in the field through the rules ESPN created. She qualified.

ESPN has done fantastic things to grow our sport, and I believe this will certainly draw great attention to the Classic — and attention to the sport is a good thing.

What I believe this means to Kim is that she will be crippled by media coverage. She'll have what seems like a million people following her everywhere she goes. I'm a former Classic champion, but she'll get far, far more coverage than I will.

In fact, she'll get more coverage >Kevin VanDam and >Skeet Reese combined.

My suggestion to Kim would be this. Enjoy the event. Take it all in. Be competitive, but savor it. And I'd like to say that I wish her luck, but I don't know if I wish Kim luck any more than I wish KVD or any other competitor good luck. When the whistle blows February 20 and we launch our boats for the start of the Classic, my intention is to win. At that point, she's just another competitor.

For more information on 2007 Classic champion Boyd Duckett, visit his Web site.