BIRMINGHAM, Ala. The typical angler, to hear Boyd Duckett tell it, inwardly dislikes and perhaps even fears a tournament as unpredictable as this year's Bassmaster Classic. That's why the eventual winner may have to move fish with his mind.
Punishingly cold weather last week scrambled Lay Lake's bass, and had enough Alabamians cranking up their heaters that Alabama Power drew water through the hydroelectric dams at either end of the manmade lake, adding currents that, in the idyllic warm weather this week, will be gone. As the water warms from the 40s last week to perhaps the low 60s for the tournament, the fish will change patterns throughout the three-day tournament, which begins Friday.
The 2007 Classic champion, anglers agreed, will be the man who best adapts. Habit will sink a confident competitor this year. Almost to a man, anglers
interviewed after their final day of practice said this would be a Classic to tap their abilities to observe, to adjust, to intuit. All of this led Duckett last week to tell the Tuscaloosa News: "The man with the strongest mind wins."
"You have to go where you anticipate they're going to be," he said Wednesday. "It's not the comfort level you're used to. You're normally looking for where they are right now."
The conditions have played havoc with some very good fishermen, but they're compounded by the larger atmosphere around the Classic. This is the richest of the four annual BASS tournaments that don't count in the Angler of the Year standings. Everyone who fishes is guaranteed at least a $10,000 payout for his efforts. In that regard, the anglers cannot lose.
But the stakes reach higher than any other event in the sport. Awaiting the winner are a half-million dollars in prize money, the lust of sponsors and media exposure an order of magnitude greater than even other major tournaments.
"People outthink themselves," angler Peter Thliveros said. "If you look at it from a numbers standpoint, it's one of the easiest tournaments to win; there's only 49 guys to beat. Really your only obstacle is yourself. You put yourself behind, in most of these situations. You're fighting the monster within the whole time."