While much of the bass-fishing world remains focused on big names like Mike Iaconelli, Kevin VanDam and Aaron Martens as the Bassmaster Classic approaches, there's one angler along the fringes who arguably should be recognized as a favorite.
Sure, there's Russ Lane – a local Lay Lake monster who everyone's watching. But what about Boyd Duckett? He's local too. He lives about 2 hours from Birmingham, Ala. and has fished (and won) at Lay many times throughout the years.
He's not a newcomer either. He's been a tournament regular since the late 1970s. He made a short-lived run at the tour level a few years ago, but has mainly stayed local and regional in order to own and operate a large tank-trailer rental business with 65 employees.
He's got that business where he wants it to be, and is finally ready to retry things at the tour level, and it all starts with this Classic.
What's particularly interesting about Duckett is the standout year he had last season. Check this out. He finished 3rd in the Bassmaster Southern Tour points, and 5th in the Northern points. He finished in the Top 10 three times last year, and don't forget that he won the 2002 Pickwick Invitational.
He's fishing the Elite Series this year, yes, but considers the Classic to be a separate event. Which means he brings a go-for-broke mentality to Lay. When you couple that with his local knowledge, it all puts him squarely into the X-factor limelight.
Duckett was pretty straight-up about his Classic practice so far, and what he plans to do once the event begins. To frame the scenario, the field fished 3 practice days this week under bitter-cold conditions, driving rains, sleet, snow and heavy winds.
That meant the big largemouths that a lot of anglers wanted to target came nowhere near the shallows. The deep spotted bass were there for the plucking, but most in the field want to target at least a mix of spots and largemouths, if not largemouths exclusively.
"My practice was not very good," Duckett said. "But most of it, I think, was weather-related. I didn't really try to catch them deep. I think some of the guys were getting fair numbers deep.
"But I'm from Alabama, and I've fished Lay a good bit – I only live 2 hours away from it. If we had to fish this weekend, it would be a pure spot tournament. But it's supposed to start warming up. If it warms for 3 days, we'll catch them shallow – at least I hope so, otherwise I'll be weighing in zero."
Spots To Place, Largemouths To Win
According to Duckett, his experience tells him that if the largemouths are biting (a big "if"), then spots alone can't win. He's not fishing his first Classic for 2nd place, so he's fixed solely on heads.
"I don't think I can win it any other way. The spot fishing is real good – Lay has some great spots. During a BASS tournament, or the Classic, with all those boats on the water, 13 or 14 pounds a day will be good.
"But if the largemouths bite, then 17- or 18-pound bags, at least a few, will be weighed each day. And someone will have a 22-pound stringer one day. So I'm going to focus on largemouths. In February, to win a Classic here, you have to be catching 18 pounds a day. You can't do that fishing for spots."
He added that an angler could possibly catch a big mixed bag, but that's counting on some awfully big spots. "I don't have confidence to fish it that way."
Duckett's first Classic actually kicks off the next chapter of his life. As mentioned, he's spent many years owning and operating a substantial business at home in Demopolis, Ala., and he's been a tournament regular at various levels for over 2 decades. But after the Classic ends, he'll fish the full Bassmaster Elite Series season.
As far as he's concerned, though, that new beginning is still a world away. Right now, it's the Classic that matters, and that has nothing to do with the upcoming season.
"The Classic is solely a separate event for me," he said. "I started fishing BASS in 2002. I fished the Opens every year, won an event at Pickwick, and qualified for the Bassmaster Tour. But because of my work schedule, I fished only three Tour events that year. Then I fished the Opens again, and this past year, fished all 10 (Northern and Southern) Tour events.
"I had a real good season – 3rd in the Southern and 5th in the Northern – and got my working environment to where I can go do whatever it takes. I'm ready to go beat my head with the big boys.
"The Classic is a stand-alone event though. It's probably the only one I'll fish this year where 2nd or 5th or 8th won't matter. In the Elite Series, I'd be proud to have that finish. But none of that really matters in the Classic. I think the way to fish it is to try to win it."
Given that Duckett's a local, and knows the lake well, BassFan asked him who in the field scares him the most.
"If there's a spot bite, Aaron Martens may very well win his first Classic," he said. "If they come shallow, then we'll see some big weights from guys like Terry Scroggins, Russ Lane, and maybe Greg Hackney – the good, shallow-water, power-fishermen.
"There's a pretty good flipping bite if the water warms up – a big-weight bite," he added. "Guys like Scroggins, he's the best there is at flipping big weight, and he may blow the field away. And of course Russ is real good too."
Which brings up the point of why nobody's talking about Duckett. He shows all the right cards at the table, but hasn't had the media spotlight blinding his eyes.
That's perfectly fine with him. In fact, he's glad, because he hopes to go unnoticed, at least to start.
"I've gotten a fair number of calls – (writer) Tim Tucker told me he picked me second – but I'm enjoying (less attention)," he said. "There can be so much boat traffic, so much media traffic, but at least 1 day I expect to be by myself. Then, if I do well, I'll have to deal with it, but I'm happy being right where I am.
"If it warms up and we start catching fish in the shallow-water bays, it's hard to fish with 20 or 30 boats around you," he added. "If it's a deep-water bite, you could probably get by. But the (largemouths) are spooky when they first come up. When you put a bunch of boats in shallow, the traffic will be a factor."
His solution: "I'm trying to figure that into my plan. Areas where they're spookiest – I'll fish there first. Then I'll go back to the areas that can handle the boat traffic later on."
> Despite being a tournament angler and hardcore BassFan for more than 2 decades, Duckett's never been to a Bassmaster Classic – even though many were held so close to his home. "I always said, 'I'm not going to the Classic until I fish in it.' I guess my dream came true."