By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The 53 Bassmaster Classic competitors got a look at Grand Lake under a variety of weather conditions during the 3-day pre-practice period that concluded Sunday. Several were surprised that colder seemed to be better.
The air temperature didn't make it out of the 40s on either of the first 2 days, and then zoomed up a good 15 degrees on a spring-like Sunday. Some of the anglers, however, reported that the action cooled off when the mercury rose.
None reported seeing water temperatures higher than 48 degrees, and those numbers aren't likely to change much this week. It's a good bet that the fat females – the fish that mean the difference between a run-of-the-mill bag and a championship-contending stringer – will be pulled from their winter haunts.
Bites weren't terribly difficult to come by, but fish exceeding 3 pounds were reportedly rare and seemingly random. The field will get one final opportunity on Wednesday to firm up what was uncovered over the weekend or, in a worst-case scenario, go on a desperate search for the type of quality that couldn't be found previously.
Following are some pre-practice notes from some of the contestants in the 43rd edition of the sport's premier event.
"It got progressively worse for me each day, and I think that was due to the weather more than anything. The first day I got quite a few bites up to 3 pounds or so, and then (Saturday) was maybe two-thirds of that, and then (Sunday) was less than half of the first day.
"I fished a different part of the lake each day and that makes it real easy right now to decide which part I like the best. I found a few things that surprised me, but I don't want to say exactly what right now.
"I caught a couple that were around 3 pounds and one that was definitely over that – 4 to 4 1/2 pounds. That was the only real good bite I had and the thing I don't know is what I need to do to get more like that. I'll try some different things on Wednesday to see if I can figure the big ones out a little better."
"The fishing wasn't bad, but I would've frozen my butt off without my Simms gear. I just don't like the cold, but that's just me. That's why I go to Costa Rica (on vacation).
"There's going to be a lot of 12- to 15-pound stringers caught, but I couldn't catch a big one to save my life. I caught a couple of 3s and maybe a 3 1/2, but there are 4s, 5s, 6s and 7s that live in this lake – that's been proven with the Alabama Rig.
"I'm 100-percent confident that I can catch fish, but where those are going to put me, I have no idea. I've shaken some off in places that could be big ones, or they could be small ones. I'm going big-fish hunting on Wednesday – I'll break out some prototype baits and some old-school ones and try to establish a pattern that can get me one or two good ones a day."
"I'm not overly optimistic about anything right now, that's for sure. It hasn't been easy by any means. I've just been trying to eliminate a lot of stuff and hoping to make something happen.
Skeet Reese said the inconsistent weather during pre-practice undoubtedly slowed down the bite.
"At this point I don't know what's good and what's bad out there. When I get around some fish I can get a bite here and a bite there, but I could come out and catch one or two fish as easily as 17 or 18 pounds. The weather's been real inconsistent and I'm sure that's hurt the bite somewhat.
"(Sunday) was the nicest day, but it was my slowest day. I'm not satisfied, but I'm never satisfied. That's just fishing."
"I was expecting some warmer water temperatures and I'm really surprised by how low they are, especially because I'd heard they were having a mild-type winter around here. I've seen as low as 43 and nothing over 46. It's not really an early-spring type of deal – it's still winter.
"I was more optimistic about (Sunday) than any of the other days, and I put in a full day, but it was kind of fruitless. My confidence is still good, but that's because I know that when it's cold, fishing is going to be tough. There's no getting around that fact.
"I had a pretty good day on Friday, and on Wednesday I'm going to re-run some of those same areas and try to figure it was due to the area or just the day."
"Pre-practice was decent, I'd say. I don't feel confident that I've gotten on the winning fish, but I do feel like I've got a start and a little bit of a pattern. I probably averaged eight or nine bites a day and I actually seemed to do a little better when it was colder – (Sunday) was my worst day.
"I caught a couple of decent ones, but those seemed to be kind of random. I'm going to treat (Wednesday) like any other practice day – I'll just keep looking for new water and trying to expand on what I've got now."
"I feel so-so about what I found. I can catch fish pretty well and I've gotten a decent number of 3-pounders, but none of those over-4s that this lake is full of. Catching the big ones is going to be the trick.
"With the water temperatures still at 46 or 47, there's a lot of things that just aren't happening because it's so cold. I never saw much difference in any of the days – the bite was fairly consistent, but not blazing. You got bit if you were where you were supposed to be.
Defending Classic champion Chris Lane didn't get a lot of bites in pre-practice, but he did connect with some quality.
"I feel like I've got one objective for the last practice day and I'm going to run around kind of like an idiot, and hopefully I'll find what I'm looking for. I've got a couple of things I want to try to see if they're any good."
"The first day was really tough for me and I about froze to death, and then the second day I caught them pretty good. Then (on Sunday) I tried to duplicate what I'd done the day before on a different part of the lake, and that didn't work at all.
"I could call my shots on that second day and I could've had 17 or 18 pounds, but then I struggled all day (Sunday). On Wednesday I'll just go out there and see if they're on the stuff in the area where I did get bit, but I don't want to run too much of it because if I don't get a bite, then what am I going to do?
"From what I saw (Saturday), I was pretty excited. I'll just have to wait and see."
"My confidence is really good. I haven't been getting a lot of bites, but the ones I have been getting are ones that I want to weigh in.
"I had so much fun (winning) last year that I really want to do it again, so I'm concentrating on the big pre-spawn fish that are coming in. A lot of them are still on their winter pattern and I can see them (on the graph), but catching them from 40-plus feet of water has always been a tough nut for me to crack.
"I still think it's going to take somewhere between 18 and 20 pounds a day to win and I think other things besides a jerkbait are going to come into play. I don't think it can be won one bait and the guy who makes the right adjustments will be the guy who gets the bites he'll need to take to the stage."
"I caught a lot of fish – getting bit wasn't that hard. I just didn't find an abundance of quality fish. (Sunday) was the worst day of the week so far. It seemed like when it was really cold and nasty, the bite was actually a little bit better.
"I really expected to see some more 3 1/2 to 5-pound fish, and we might see those if we could throw the A-Rig. I need to figure out a way to catch some better-than-average fish, but it's inevitable that things are going to change over the course of the week.
"What it's going to come down to is the guy who wins this thing is going to have a 5- or 6-pounder or two a day to separate himself from the field. I've still got some areas I want to look at (on Wednesday), so I'm not going to backtrack. I've got a good idea of what's at the places where I've been, and there's a couple things I haven't tried that might help me figure out how to catch some better fish."