By now, the reels are spooled, the hooks have been sharpened and plastics organized and reorganized in trays and storage bins. No doubt, readying the tools of the trade stands essential for Bassmaster Classic competitors, but so is the preparation of their most important piece of equipment -- their bodies.
No stranger to the serious workout, Virginia pro John Crews appreciates that premise as much as anyone, considering that his recent bout with a miserable illness kept him out of the gym for way too long. Fortunately, consistency in his off-season regimen gave him a good base for recovery, and he's keeping the big picture in perspective.
"My biggest priority to get myself in shape has been to get over the flu for the past week," Crews said. "I hadn't worked out in over a week, but my diet and exercise (plan) didn't change for the Classic. This tournament is more between your ears. Now that I'm back on track physically, I'm ready to fish."
Gerald Swindle who claimed his first Bassmaster win at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open on Florida's Lake Tohopekaliga, slipped on icy ground while filming a mule deer hunt and suffered an off-season shoulder bruising. He's worked through that and, thanks to some dual training with his 15-year-old nephew -- a 6-foot, 5-inch 275-pounder, he feels he's in top form for the Classic.
"I've used the fact that I push him to push myself," Swindle said. "I'm not sure that lifting more weight than I ever have helps me catch any more fish, but it gives you that mental edge. And, at the end of the day, you're not so blown out.
"I worked out all through the off season. I did a lot of hiking while filming hunting shows and my wife and I have been running together. But, in the last month or so I've started making it a priority. With all the preparations of getting the boat ready and everything else, if you're not careful, your workout and conditioning starts dropping in priority. If you can't discipline yourself for one hour in the morning, you're going to have a hard time disciplining yourself when you need to for nine hours on the water."
Swindle said he'll grab some time for crunches, pushups and stretching exercises during Classic week, if only as a stress reliever. Crews also works out on the road, either at the hotel gym or with the dumbbells, resistance bar and push-up/pull-up bars he carries in his truck.
Nutrition's essential, too, and for Crews it's all about sticking with what works. He doesn't carb up or carb down, he just eats the good whole foods high in proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. A similar approach works for Gary Klein of Weatherford, Texas.
"I always eat healthy. I don't eat fried food, I eat grilled everything and lots of vegetables" said Klein, who makes his 29th Classic appearance this year. "I like to eat sushi, a lot of fish and a lot of grilled chicken."
Klein, who also maintained his off-season conditioning through hunting hikes and running, said he's not one to down a stack of pancakes or a big omelette for breakfast. His morning nutritional routine stands among the most unique of the Classic field. The Edge energy drink is no eyebrow raiser, but Klein pairs it with cultivated Blue Green Algae capsules. He's been taking the dietary supplement for about 15 years and says the super food helps keep him lean and nourished.
Important for all Classic competitors will be good nutritional decisions for practice and tournament days. Klein's a light muncher who prefers energy bars and vitamin water, while Swindle keeps a tight schedule of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m., along with vitamin water and a couple of 5-hour Energy drinks. PB&J's, Swindle notes, provide a convenient package of protein, sugars and carbs to keep him balanced throughout the day.
Crews opts for a structured meal plan from Ken Hoover of Athletes Outdoors, which provides performance nutrition coaching and products to several Elite Series pros. Crews' customized assortment includes a couple of energy shakes, eight energy bars and vitamins.
"Ken creates bags of foods and you mow 'em down while you fish," Crews said. "Sometimes that can be a lot to pack in, but you get through it. When you're out there for eight to nine hours running and gunning, you burn more than you think, and you can get run down if you're not replacing it."