- Mike Suchan, Outdoors
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NEW ORLEANS -- After three practice days spent trying to figure out the vast Louisiana Delta, anglers had a night off Monday -- or out, depending on the angler.
Then the non-fishing side of the 2011 Bassmaster Classic began in earnest for the 50 competitors on Tuesday afternoon. They donned tournament jerseys for the official registration process.
The anglers said their hellos and visited with one another as they waited in line for photos, TV interviews and swag from a variety of vendors. And they talked some fishing. The warming trend and how it will affect the Delta fishery was among the top topics of conversation.
"You couldn't have scripted the weather any better for this tournament -- take a hammer and drive the nail, it's as good as it gets," said Greg Hackney, who lives only an hour away in Gonzales, La.
Hackney said the cold stretch before and during the practice days slowed the Classic anglers a touch, but it also helped keep a lot of other anglers off the water.
The temperatures have been warming since the weekend with highs near 70, which should continue through Wednesday's final practice and the tournament days Friday-Sunday.
The warm-up is anticipated to heat up the fishing, and some, including tournament director Trip Weldon, welcomed the improving conditions.
"I'd love to break some records," he said as watched over the registration before an angler meeting. "That'd be great."
Asked if he had a home-water advantage, Hackney hemmed a little bit, and Skeet Reese, within earshot, hawed, "It's your home pond."
"Not since last February," said Hackney, who grew up in Arkansas and didn't move here until a month before the 2003 Classic. "I practiced all I could. I got off it at Thanksgiving and went deer hunting.
"But it's hard to get an advantage on this bunch, they're so good."
Cliff Pace is among that group of good, and he knows the waters, too. The native of Petal, Miss., has fished 300-400 events on the Delta, and while he said it's changed tremendously since Hurricane Katrina, "it's still the same fishery. Any shallow water technique can win this tournament."
Pace said he was pleased with areas he visited in practice and will use Wednesday to look for new areas.
Also finding some good areas was Todd Faircloth, who thinks this Classic could be a shootout.
"Areas where you got one or two bites in practice, fish should be coming up and now it's going to be jam-packed," he said.
While some like Pace won't hit their prime areas until Friday, others like first-time Classic qualifier Brandon Palaniuk want some reassurance.
"Tomorrow is huge," he said. "It's make or break."
As reigning Classic champ Kevin VanDam walked around Palaniuk and they brushed elbows, the Federation Nation champion said it was exciting to be in the venue.
"I think that's the hardest part for any young guy, any Federation guy, like me, is to not get star struck," he said. "You could lose your ability to fish. You have to have confidence.
"I have all the respect for these guys, and for me to gain their respect is big."
And Palaniuk saying Wednesday's practice was crucial for his tournament hopes certainly isn't an indicator of his chances. Many are in the same boat.
"I don't even know where I'm going," Hackney said. "I'll know a lot more tomorrow."
Join Bassmaster.com early Wednesday as we will have live coverage, reports from the water and a live blog.