With a tough Friday-Sunday practice finally behind them, Bassmaster Classic anglers are bone-tired. But that feeling is almost incidental to their relief about the end of frigid air over the Louisiana Delta. In the nick of time, milder weather is on its way.
"I think everyone's happy, except for the fish no, wait, maybe even the fish are happy about the coming warmer temperatures," said Classic qualifier Mark Davis. "The cold has made it a brutal practice, for sure."
The forecast heading into the Feb. 18-20 world championship calls for progressively warmer air temps and some sunshine. The resulting warming Delta water is expected to improve the bass bite. If the night air in the 30s had hung around, the bite could have been among the toughest in Classic history.
Davis, the 1995 Classic champ from Arkansas, said his weekend practice time was productive.
"I found a few fish," he said. "Getting eight to 10 bites in a day's time, and knowing conditions are going to improve, is a confidence-booster."
Besides the biting cold, anglers had to deal with the Delta's lower-than-normal water levels. Davis said he came close a few times to running aground when he zipped over shallow shellbeds. He was a lot luckier than some others, including Paul Elias.
"I ran into a pipeline," Elias said Sunday evening. "I got unstuck by myself, but it was too dark by then to risk going up on plane. They (rescue team) drove all the way down from Belle Chasse, put a boat in at Venice, and found me."
He said his savior was a Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Department airboat, which pulled him to deeper water, where he could safely get in under his own steam.
Like Davis, Elias likes the prospect of a better bite during Classic competition. But Elias has based his competition plan on a 100-mile one-way run to spots in Venice, and the morning fog that could come with warmer air temps concerns him.
"If you plan to make a long run, a fog delay, or just the fact that you have to run slower in fog, would cut into your fishing time," he said. "As it is, you only get three hours to fish if you run to Venice. Fog makes the run even more of a gamble."
The anglers are barred from the water Monday and Tuesday; it's an official practice day on Wednesday. Elias, the 1982 Classic champ and a competition veteran this Classic happens to be his 300th Bassmaster tournament said his Monday would be spent getting his motor checked out.
"At least I have Wednesday to run the boat and make sure everything's OK," he said.
Davis said he would spend Monday cleaning his boat and organizing his tackle.
"Classic week is a busy week, and you have to make time to work on your tackle," he said. "So I'll get all that done Monday."
Davis and Elias are two of the six former Classic champs who qualified for the 2011 Classic. The others are three-time winner and defending champ Kevin VanDam; Skeet Reese, who won in 2009; Michael Iaconelli, who won in 2003 in the previous Classic on the Delta; and Boyd Duckett, the 2007 winner.