TULSA, Okla. — Thursday was Media Day for the 43rd Bassmaster Classic, and some of the 53 anglers in the field for the three-day test on Grand Lake of the Cherokees looked pensive, some nervous, some anxious — but all looked thawed.
After Wednesday’s snowy, windy and bitterly cold final practice day on the vast, 73-year-old reservoir, thawed is a grand relief.
But in Friday’s first round, they won’t stay thawed for long — not with a sunrise forecast in the low 20s and an afternoon high barely above freezing.
“We’re all going to be cold. We’re all going to face the same conditions,” long-time touring pro Greg Hackney said.
Hackney is Louisiana’s lone Classic qualifier. In professional bass fishing’s own odd way, Hackney’s run into his 11th Classic is akin to him jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
And that’s a grand thing for him because three of his past four Classics have been on Louisiana waters, places where folks expected him to steal a big share of the bass fishing world’s spotlight. But he didn’t.
“I feel good,” he said, muttering something about the complex conditions fishermen have faced since practice started last week. “There’s not as much pressure.”
Not yet — not unless Hackney can repeat the charge he made the last time the Classic field battled downright frigid conditions. That was five years ago, on Lake Hartwell near Greenville, S.C., when snow fell through most of the first day. Two days later, Hackney finished fifth before qualifying for Classics in Shreveport, then Alabama, then New Orleans, then back to Shreveport.
This Classic presents a unique challenge: Hackney said ice will play a major role during at least the first two days of the three-day marathon.
“Maybe the whole first day, ice freezing in the (rod) guides, line freezing in the reels and ice on the baits. That’s going to be frustrating,” he said. “And we’re going to have all those clothes on, and the fish might be sluggish, and there’s extra pressure in a Classic and it’s all going to come down to who can stay focused with all those (distractions).”
Hackney said a water-resistant/repelling spray, Reel Magic, is his weapon to battle the ice. He said he sprayed the lines on his reels Thursday and added that he was going to repeat applications before he leaves his boat Thursday, then again Friday morning.
“You know what’s odd? This is the coldest weather they’ve had here all year, and the snow we had falling on us in practice (Wednesday) was the first snow they’ve had all year,” Hackney said. “That’s what we’ve come to expect in Classics … expect the unusual.”
Hackney said Grand Lake is totally different from any place he has fished.
“This is a ‘pattern’ lake,” he said. “It doesn’t look like anybody will be able to sit on one spot and win it.
“They’ll have to run to different places on the lake to fish a certain pattern.”
Defending champion Chris Lane also has a plan to fight the cold: a Mr. Heater — a small propane-fired unit that he will have on the front deck of his boat throughout the first day.
Lane said he planned to use the four practice days “to completely change the way I fish. I like to fish grass, and there’s not a blade of grass in this lake. It made me change and come here to use baits I don’t usually use.”
Lane’s older brother, Bobby, is in the field, too. He said he’s figured out a strategy that should help control the ice problem Hackney mentioned.
“Anybody using micro guides will have big problems,” he said. “I’m going to try using spinning tackle early in the day when ice will be the biggest problem. The guides are bigger (on a spinning rod) and won’t freeze as quickly. And I’ve got 6-, 8-, 10-, 12- and 15-pound line on my reels to match the conditions.”
Lane said he expects 55 to 60 pounds will be needed to win “because fish here don’t react like (bass in) other lakes. Fish here are used to cold water, and there are some big fish in this lake.
“The guy who wins will catch a couple of 5-pounders each day, and there are 6- and 8-pounders in the lake.”
Ott Defoe, a rising star in the pro bass fishing world, said he has seen it all since driving to Oklahoma last week.
“Conditions here are everything. In six days, we’ve had it all: warm and stable, cold, cold and windy, had snow, had hail, had rain and had wind,” he said. “It’s the way those conditions play into each day and how you adjust to it that will determine success.”
DeFoe said he’s going to spool fluorocarbon line onto his reels daily.
“If there was ever a case for using monofilament, then this is it,” he said. “It not as stiff as flourocarbon, but I’m sticking with 100 percent flourocarbon because it will shed water and won’t hold water like (braided line).”
B.A.S.S. will unveil a new BASSTrakk for this Classic, a GPS tracking device that will allow the public to find out where each angler is on the water by logging into http://www.bassmaster.com. It’s also available via a new app on phones. Some anglers don’t like the move, fearing that other competitors will be able to track them. ... The Wolf Creek launch is near Grove, Okla., some 92 miles from the weigh-in at the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa. ... Live weigh-ins are scheduled daily and can be viewed on the B.A.S.S. website.