NEW ORLEANS -- The Louisiana Delta is a complicated fishery on the best day. Cover it with a blanket of fog and its complexities intensify.
For the second day in a row, fog wreaked havoc on the Bassmaster Classic, with dense fog forcing a nearly three-hour delay at Day Two's takeoff.
That left about five hours for anglers to run to their fishing spots, try to put a quality limit in the boat, and make the return trip to the boat ramp. That made for a very short fishing day for the many anglers making the run to the Venice area.
"It's very frustrating," said Bobby Lane, who was among a big group making the Venice run. Lane entered Day Two in fifth place but slipped to 10th after catching just more than 10 pounds during the abbreviated fishing day.
The Delta is massive, spanning hundreds of square miles of potential largemouth bass habitat and thousands of miles of marshy shoreline. The official tournament waters for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic span the entire southeastern corner of Louisiana, any legal fishing water south of U.S. 90 from the east side of the Atchafalaya Basin to the Mississippi line. And mazes of bayous, sloughs, lakes and canals create an aquatic labyrinth through the coastal marsh.
Figuring it out is hard enough when the weather is perfect. Cracking its code with limited fishing time challenges the best anglers.
Numerous anglers expressed frustration with the foggy weather and its limiting effect on the world's most prestigious bass tournament. Consider that many anglers making the lengthy boat run to the Venice area had less than 1 ½ hours to ply the waters. Cliff Pace, who entered Day Two in seventh place with 15-7, said he fished 52 minutes before turning around and running back for an on-time arrival at the boat ramp.
"It's frustrating because you don't know the full potential of your area because you're just sampling it," said Todd Faircloth, who had about an hour and 15 minutes to fish in his area south of Venice. But like all the anglers gambling on a Venice bonanza, Faircloth said the area's potential is just too good to pass up as long as there's at least an hour to devote to fishing.
Gary Klein, who is fishing his 29th Classic, said his actual fishing time at Venice on Day Two ranked as the shortest of any of his Classic appearances. He also said the Mississippi River fog bank was the densest fog he can recall in his many trips to the Classic.
The delay didn't seem to faze Kevin VanDam, who put 22 ½ pounds in the boat on the short day. Because he's fishing about 15 minutes from the boat ramp, the condensed day affected the reining Classic champion less than others.
Brent Chapman wasn't hampered by the short day, either. Despite making the Venice run and having 70 minutes to fish, he boated 20-1, Day Two's second-biggest limit behind VanDam.
"What an intense day," Chapman said. "From the boat ride to the fishing."
Intense might be an understatement for the fog's effect on navigation. Even after fog lifted at the takeoff site at Bayou Segnette State Park, anglers found more of it when they approached their destinations. VanDam's honey hole in Lake Cataouatche was still socked in when he and others arrived, and the crew making the Venice trip ran into the soup where Red Pass meets the Mississippi River. Fog was worse in the river channel.
"You couldn't see past your trolling motor," Kelly Jordon said.
Lane blasted off after leaving a Venice gas dock and, before his boat was on plane, he disappeared in the river's murky white curtain.
"It was a weird, weird feeling," Lane said. "I've run through the fog before and never had any issues, but that was no good."
Even later in the day, as the Venice anglers left the lower Mississippi river area for their return trips, fog still hung low over the river.
"I've fished in a lot of bad weather: Lightning, thunder, rain, wind, snow," Faircloth said. "But that's about the most nervous I've ever been driving a bass boat."
As much as the foggy mantle wreaked havoc on the tournament day, it demonstrated the fishery's incredible productivity, as well as the incredible efficiency of Classic anglers. Even with scant time to fish, many anglers had no problem finding limits in a matter of minutes.
"That says everything you need to know about the quality of this fishery," Chapman said. "People don't realize just how good it is. I've been to Brazil, Mexico, a lot of places, and this is one of the most unique, awesome places in the world."
With the Classic shaping up to be a two-man race between VanDam and Chapman, the latter is "hoping and praying" there won't be more fog on Day Three. But he may be out of luck. The National Weather Service has issued a dense fog advisory for the tidal lakes and marine zone until noon Sunday.
Classic tournament director Trip Weldon said that, by Classic rules, the day will be cancelled if more than half the fishing day is lost to a delay. That means anglers will have to take off by a little after 11 a.m. local time. If that doesn't happen, the day will be cancelled and the remaining 25 anglers will fish Monday, Weldon said.
If the anglers do fish Sunday, Chapman's boat will have a new piece of equipment to help him wade through the fog. Lowrance, a popular electronics company, recently has developed a small radar unit conducive for use on bass boats.
Several Classic anglers have employed them over the past two foggy days, praising their effectiveness. Klein's boat is equipped with a radar unit, and Chapman followed in his boat wake on the way to Venice on Day Two.
"I'll have radar on my boat in the morning," he said. "If I hadn't been able to follow Gary and then Kevin Wirth, it would've been a lot slower run."