Steven 'Rock' Rockweiler's a legend of sorts in and around the Louisiana Delta. He's fished the place for 51 years and fished his first Delta bass tournament back in 1970. He's helped countless pros prep for competition at the Delta, including some Bassmaster Classic winners, and was a common source of intel again this year prior to the no-info cutoff.
He's traveled in high circles within the sport of pro bass fishing, from the Hemphill, Texas gang in the 1970s through the sport's explosive growth in the '80s and '90s. He's won more than 300 Delta tournaments through the years and could easily be considered the single best source of Delta bass-fishing information available.
Rockweiler not only wants to help the pros better understand the fishery, he's an avid reader of BassFan too and wants to help BassFans better follow the action. So he reached out to BassFan and offered up some otherwise hard-to-find info about the Classic fishing waters.
For starters, he believes this Classic will again set a new 3-day Classic weight record.
The Big Four
There's already talk about four different areas with enough big fish to win this Classic, and it's no surprise that they've been popular areas in the past. According to Rockweiler, those four areas are Bayou Black, Bayou Segnette, Delacroix and Venice.
Bayou Segnette is where Davy Hite won in 1999. Actually, Hite fished Bayou Boeuf, which is at the very far end of Segnette. The official Classic launch site is Bayou Segnette State Park.
To get to Bayou Black near the town of Gibson, you run though Bayou Segnette, then about 80 more minutes. It's where Kevin VanDam won in 2003.
Delacroix's a marsh complex southeast of New Orleans accessed via the east bank of the Mississippi. It's only about 15 miles as the crow flies from downtown New Orleans, but it takes a complicated 2-hour run to reach it from the launch.
Then Venice is another marsh complex that's a 2-hour run south of New Orleans via the Mississippi. It's where Mike Iaconelli won in 2003.
"They're all decent areas capable of producing fish," Rockweiler noted. "I just think that when you run to Venice and Delacroix, it's a 2-hour deal each way, so you might get 2 1/2 hours of fishing in. That's a gamble.
"With south winds this week, the water's finally starting to rise some," he added. "And it's getting warmer. The water was in the mid-40s for 2 months, and I've never seen that before. So there's a good possibility of fog at the end of the week. If there's fog, it'll be a 2- to 3-hour delay, so the guys going there (Venice or Delacroix) are shot."
He noted too that last week marked the second instance of "really hard extreme weather" this winter, which is very atypical. A north wind blew it in, and that pushed a lot of water out of the bass areas, which in turn left the flipping stuff pretty dry. And with the low water, many boats ran aground during practice.
Additionally, Hurricane Katrina substantially altered the Delta and it's now super risky to run off GPS since the units haven't been updated. Edwin Evers was thus smart to install radar prior to this event. But again, you can't safely rely on radar to run the marshes, which is a "treacherous" proposition according to Rockweiler.
Here's a look at the four areas where most of the field will concentrate. Davy Hite won in Bayou Boeuf at the far end of Segnette. Kevin VanDam won in Bayou Black. Mike Iaconelli won in Venice.
Rockweiler has his own thoughts about what pattern combination could win this Classic. More on that in a minute. First, a few insights about what he expects most of the field to be doing.
"Normally this is a flipping paradise. But with the water as low as it's been, a lot of the good flipping areas are just dry, or in inches of water. It's 2 to 3 feet low. The water started coming back in on Monday and it should come back in all week. It probably won't rise more than a foot or a foot and a half, but you will get some flipping in the mix, no doubt.
"The prevailing pattern? Usually when these fish are that cold then the water rises into the mid- to upper-50s, the spinnerbait bite's excellent. A few fish will be making beds this weekend – I usually catch some big bed-fish the first week of February. Last year, the last week of January, I went out and caught five fish for 37 1/2 pounds, then went back the next day and caught five for 31. Those fish were coming in and spawning. So there are some big stringers to be had if you catch them right."
Swimjigs will probably be strong as well, he thinks. They're not fished much in the Delta, he said, but they're very effective. And since many of the competitors count the swimjig among their strengths, they'll be used.
"And I think you'll see some rattlebaits in some areas with a little deeper water. But the guy who's smart will figure out that in a lot of these areas, you can catch big fish on swimbaits. I started using them about 8 years ago, watching what the guys in California were doing, and the guy who can get himself five fish, then stick with a swimbait and fish 5 or 6 hours for one or two strikes, can really separate himself and maybe win."
Also noteworthy: Rockweiler thinks last weekend's official practice was pretty much a waste. The cold-shocked fish definitely had lockjaw, and pros who nixed an area based on bites/no-bites may have already taken themselves out of the game.
"The smart guys just rode around and looked – the guys who fished them hard and got really despondent, that's not good," he said. Meaning, the fishing will change so quickly with warming water and a spawning moon that those areas will be wide-open by day 1 and "everybody's going to catch them." So to reject an area based on the worst bite of the entire year is likely a mistake.
Rock's take on the tides is this: "The tides are really a strong factor in Venice and Delacroix, not so much in Segnette and Black. Those two (latter) waters have very little tide action – water level's more wind-driven. Like this winter when the north wind blew everything out.
"Most people like fishing the falling tide, but to me it doesn't matter. An hour on either side when the tide first starts is what I like."
In the early portion of the last decade, engineers fought saltwater intrusion by digging a diversion canal. It was named the Davis Pond project and it diverted Mississippi River water back into the marshes. Pretty quickly thereafter, Louisiana stocked Florida-strain largemouths, the new-lake phenomenon took hold and fish grew quickly to gigantic proportions.
Those Floridas weren't there for the '99 and '01 Classics, and weren't that big for the '03 Classic. But soon after the '03 Classic, Lake Cataouatche, immediately south of New Orleans, got hydrilla back. It glassed over for about 3 years and literally exploded with trophy bass. There were regularly 300 to 500 boats fishing it, many from nearby states, and a stunning number of trophy bass were removed.
Rockweiler with a 9.52-pound Delta flip-fish.
Rockweiler noted it was common to catch 50 3- to 4-pounders during that heyday, and a local private launch proprietor photographed more then 800 bass over 7 1/2 pounds in a year.
Due to fish removal and other factors, the lake's not nearly as good anymore, Rockweiler said, but it still holds toads. Trouble is it's big water and tough to get your hands around.
All told, Rockweiler thinks the Classic winner will have five good fish each day plus maybe a total of two big kickers to go with them.
"It's been such a hard winter that I really haven't been on the water as much, so I don't have as good a feel for it, but I think 18 to 20 pounds a day could win this Classic," he said. "I also think the winner will probably have one day where he's got a heck of a weight, and that's what's going to separate him."
Here's Rockweiler's straight-up thoughts on who he likes to win this week.
"Lots of guys inch toward Greg Hackney and Cliff Pace because they live around here. Cliff mainly fishes the Delta system – I've never seen him much in my area, Bayou Segnette, on the west side. But I'll tell you, Gary Klein's come down here a lot through the years and loves this place. He was raised in the California Delta, he understands shallow-water fish, and he was close to winning that '03 Classic that Ike won in the last seconds. I really think Klein's going to be tough this year.
"Also, the Federation president from Vermont, Sean Alvarez, is previously from California. He knows big fish. I was kind of talking with him before the cutoff, as I was with a lot of (competitors), and he fishes similar to the way I fish. He readily grasped what I was talking about and I look for him to have a really good Classic, even though he's a Federation member."
> Rockweiler said his best pattern this winter was a deadstick dropshot.
> About the Delta's forage, he said the bass seem to be feeding most heavily right now on "perch" (aka bream, aka sunfish/crappie). Later on they switch more to shrimp, crawfish, menhaden and other resident bait.