It might not seem possible for a place the size of the Louisiana Delta to "fish small," but that could happen during the 2011 Bassmaster Classic. As much as 70% of the 50-angler filed could converge in one of two prime areas, and it's a given that multiple competitors have pinpointed at least some of the same locales currently harboring the 4-pound-class fish needed to make a run at the sport's
most prized trophy.
As many as 20 anglers will likely make the 100-plus-mile run to Venice at the southern tip of the Delta, where Mike Iaconelli won the last time the Classic was staged here in 2003. The constant infusion of pure water from the Mississippi River makes it the most fertile fishing ground in the system, but man, it's a long way down there!
Another 10 to 15 will probably opt for Bayou Black, a much shorter run in terms of actual distance, but not in time due to the serpentine route necessary to access it. It features a large complex of inviting canals, many connected to the Intracoastal Waterway, and a 20-pound stringer was caught there during a local derby over the weekend. But from New Orleans, a trip out there is also a risk
Could the winning bags come from closer to the launch, such as from Bayou Segnette or Delacroix? That seemed like a remote possibility to many in the field as recently as last weekend's chilly official-practice period, but a dramatic change in weather conditions may have brought them back into play for anglers who devoted significant practice time to them.
Before getting into more specifics about the bite, here's some info on the fishery itself.
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake Name: Louisiana Delta
> Type of Water: Vast tidal network of marshes, ponds, bays and canals fed by the Mississippi River
> Surface Acres: Hundreds of square miles (800 miles of shoreline)
> Primary structure/cover: Grass (several types)
> Average depth: 3 feet
> Species: Largemouths only
> Length limit: 12 inches
> Reputation: Potential for bags in the mid-20s, but unforgiving for anglers who make the wrong location decisions
> Weather: Warm and stable
> Water temp: Low 50s to low 60s, depending on location
> Water visibility/color: 6 to 18 inches/varies from clean to dirty
> Water level: A bit low, but rising
> Fish in: 6 inches to 5 feet
> Fish phase: Pre-spawn, with substantial spawning activity possible by the weekend
> Primary patterns: Flipping and pitching (jigs and plastics), swimjigs, spinnerbaits, rattlebaits, shallow cranking, swimbaits, topwater
> Winning weight: 55 pounds
> Cut weight (Top 25 after 2 days): 27 pounds
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 4 for Okeechobee
> Biggest factor: The current warming trend it opens up a myriad of possibilities
> Biggest decision: Whether to gamble on a long run to a hot spot or play it safe closer to the launch
> Wildcard: A pod of big fish known to only one angler
Things are Heating Up
The water is warmer much warmer in some places than it was over the weekend, when the anglers attempted to formulate their preliminary their Delta travel plans. That's especially true in the northernmost locations, which has seen temperatures creep into the 60s from the high 40s just a few days ago.
A run to Venice, at the southern tip of the Delta, is well in excess of 100 miles.
Those numbers, combined with a favorable moon phase, mean one thing to a bass spawning time! There were no reports from Wednesday's last-ditch practice day of fish actually seen on beds, but there's no doubt that that's where things are headed, and soon.
There was plenty of talk, though, about the pre-spawners having become more aggressive since the weekend. Anglers who'd previously found good concentrations of bass had a relatively easy time getting them to chomp and some who were on virtually nothing before now have the confidence that they can at least bring something to the scale.
It's been known all along, though, that this isn't going be a technique-oriented Classic. Everything will hinge on location and, perhaps to a lesser extent, timing. Competitors headed to the most popular areas can only hope that they'll get first crack at their best water.
The long journeys required to get to some of those places are full of potential pratfalls, primarily water so shallow that it's impassable. And Mother Nature could throw another one into the mix fog. There were no mist-related issues on Wednesday, but that doesn't mean it won't show up come tournament time and necessitate slow travel or even a delayed launch.
Venturers to Venice or Bayou Black are anticipating about 4 hours of fishing time if everything goes smoothly. Even if that time were halved by the presence of fog, most said they'd still go. They didn't seem overly concerned about that possibility, though, because they can't control it.
"If I've got an hour, I'm confident I can still catch fish," said 2009 Classic champion Skeet Reese. "Now whether that would end up being 18 pounds or 12, I don't know, but I'm committed to that one area."
Reprieve for Flippers?
In addition to the water being warmer, there's also more of it within the Delta than there was during official practice, courtesy of a southerly wind that's expected to hang around throughout the week. That's good news for the flipping mavens, some of whom had found the water a little too skinny for their liking when they first arrived.
The combination of new conditions will open matters up for a lot of other things, too, such as reaction baits. However, in some channels, the new water will bring an ever-advancing mudline that at first concentrates the fish toward the rear, thus making them easier to catch, but could completely shut them down if it reaches the back end before the tournament's over. That could take select canals out of play.
Another variable in the anglers' favor is the tide, which was high during fishing hours at previous Delta Classics (all staged in late summer) and served to scatter fish far and wide. It's a huge factor at Venice, being so close to the ocean.
The tide is much lower during the daytime at this time of year, giving the bass fewer places to hide.
Greg Hackney Gonzales, La.
"I kind of fished around close today and went to some areas that I hadn't been to, but I had an original game plan and I'm going to stick with it. There was a lot of (local) fishing pressure out there this morning which I didn't think would be a factor, this being only Wednesday. I'm sure it's going to be worse on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Skeet Reese said he'll make the long run to the south even if possible delays leave him only an hour to fish.
"It could be a pretty decent run to my farthest place, but I don't necessarily know that I'll go there the first day. I may wait for day 2. I've got a couple of places I don't think I have to go to right away because I don't think anybody else is on them. There's tons of fish out there that nobody's fishing for.
"I'm not in a good mood, so I'm probably putting a little more pressure on myself (as a local favorite). I'm not satisfied with anything, but it's like this at every one of them now. It wouldn't matter if it was in South Dakota."
John Crews Salem, Va.
"I had a decent practice and I'm pretty confident with what I found Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I checked a bunch of stuff today that I thought had potential, but that I hadn't seen since (prior to the cutoff) in December. I really thought some of it was going to be good, but I never got a sniff.
"I'm definitely going to have some company in certain areas, so that brings in the luck factor. You might get to make the first pass, or you might catch a big one right behind somebody. That kind of thing will make a big difference."
Dave Wolak Wake Forest, N.C.
"I'm not ecstatic with what I've found, but I've got a few groups of fish. This place is enormous and there's a lot of unproductive water, and the weather and the long boat runs will come into play. I just want to be able to fish and make my run and not get fogged in or anything like that.
"I don't have any backup stuff maybe just a few areas where I can get a bite. I'm still trying to figure out what's saltwater and what's fresh."
Skeet Reese Auburn, Calif.
"I didn't really fish today. I made my run to see what it would be like and find out where I can and can't go and other things like that. I checked one canal (close to the launch) to see if I could get bit and I got six or seven bites. I caught one 3-pounder and left.
"I still think it's going to take right around 18 pounds a day (to win). Some areas are going to fish small, so whether I can catch that might depend on how many places I have to myself."
Bill Lowen Brookville, Ind.
"The fish are more aggressive with the water higher and the temps up. There are so many 3-pounders that'll put you in that 13- to 15-pound window every day, but you need that one big one to put you over.
"All I really did today was confuse myself. I had an area that I'd been saving and I caught a ton of fish, but they weren't quite the size I was looking for. I did fish one little deal and I caught a 5-pounder.
"I might be looking at a 140-mile run, but I've also got a place closer, near the ramp. It might be a deal where I start here and then go there. You never know what you need to catch until after the first day and there are so many ways you can go wrong."
Mike McClelland Bella Vista, Ark.
"I tried to find something close today and I did catch five. My other deal is a long run. I didn't make the run today, but I did find out about some idle zones that are going to slow the trip down a little more.
Bill Lowen got lots of bites in a backup area on Wednesday, but they weren't the size he was after.
"It's going to fish smaller than I originally thought, but in the actual tournament people won't be running around so much. The key is to get in an area that doesn't have a lot of boats in it already.
"The water's warmed up enough that the fish should bite pretty good. They've definitely loosened up and I think a lot of them can be caught on moving baits."
Tommy Biffle Wagoner, Okla.
"I'm making a long run, but I'm not saying where. Things have gotten better overall because the water's warming up, but its still at the same level where I am.
"I'm putting all my eggs in one basket."
Bobby Lane Lakeland, Fla..
"If you ask me, the fishing's pretty good. I got 45 or 50 bites today. There were four spots I checked and they're still there.
"This is my style of fishing and it's a lot of fun, and I don't have anybody around me because I'd have seen something or heard a noise. I'm excited about it."
Kelly Jordon Palestine, Texas
"I'm running to Venice and I have no backup that's where I'm fishing. This weather's going to really make it better up here (toward the launch). There's going to be some spawning. Before I would've said there was no way it could be won up here, but now there is a way.
"I've got a couple areas that've got fish, but I always wish I had more and better."
Terry Scroggins San Mateo, Fla.
"I actually found some new stuff today, but my main stuff is a pretty good ways off. The conditions are better the water's higher and cleaner and there's more stuff to fish. I've got some fish in dense cover, which is what I like.
"The place has a lot to offer and I feel good about it."
"I got five bites today, which is my best day yet. Now I feel like I can catch a few. I'd been looking for something off the wall, which probably wasn't the right thing to do.
"I caught all five on the new (Big Bite Baits) YoDaddy, so at least I've got a confidence bait."
Anglers will launch at 7 a.m. CST Friday through Sunday from Bayou Segnette State Park in Westwego, La. For weigh-ins, doors to the New Orleans Arena will open at 3 p.m. each day, with pre-show activities that include concerts, giveaways from B.A.S.S. sponsors and fan interaction. Elite Series angler Casey Ashley will perform on Friday and Nashville recording artist Randy Montana will take the stage on Saturday. Admission is free.
The Classic Outdoors Expo runs from noon to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Ernest Morial Convention Center.
> Fri., Feb. 18 - Partly Cloudy - 74°/53°
- Wind: From the S at 9 mph
> Sat., Feb. 19 - Partly Cloudy - 72°/53°
- Wind: From the SE at 5 mph
> Sun., Feb. 20 - Partly Cloudy - 71°/58°
- Wind: From the S at 8 mph
> New BassFan Big Stick Brent Chapman will make the run to Venice and expects to catch quality fish when he gets there. To read his practice report, click here.