At this Bassmaster Classic, Cliff Crochet sets higher goals

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Everybody remembers his first time.

Cliff Crochet does.

“How do I win it is the biggest question,” Crochet said Thursday, with only a matter of hours separating him from his second appearance in the Bassmaster Classic.

His first, in 2010, was in Birmingham, too, on Lay Lake. Friday, it’s Lake Guntersville, the 69,000-acre reservoir an hour-and-half drive from the first-day’s late afternoon weigh-in at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.

“That first time was sort of a vacation. It was a dream come true to make the Classic and that was all good,” Crochet said during the 44th Classic’s day with the media at spanking-new Regions Field in downtown Birmingham.

“I got to hang out with guys like (Terry) Scorggins, Kevin (VanDam, the winner on Lay Lake) and Greg (Hackney) and I was living in something I dreamed about since I was a kid,” the Pierre Part tour pro angler said. “I finished 13th there, and everybody thought I did great.

“This one is different. Today, it’s personal. What I feel bad about is that Greg isn’t here. He qualified for 10 Classics. Dennis Tietje isn’t here either, and I wish they were here to represent Louisiana,” Crochet said.

Hackney has made his home in Gonzales, and Tietje lives in Roanoke.

After four days on Guntersville since last Friday, Crochet said he narrowed down the areas he’s going to work, and said he’s narrowed down his choice of lures to a Louisiana-made Rat-L-Trap, a jig-n-pig, a swimbait and a frog “... just in case it gets warm enough to get them moving into shallow water.”

Crochet said his only problem will be that he’ll have to let the water in his prime area settled down after early-day boat traffic.

“This place doesn’t fish like south Louisiana. These fish won’t be in a small, three-acre area. There are big fish all over this lake and the fish can be anywhere — seriously, anywhere,” Crochet said.

Virginia angler John Crews said a cold front moving in Friday’s early morning house isn’t likely to move the fish from their prespawn cycle.

“The fish here want to move to the bank (to spawn), and this front won’t affect them as much as a front that would come later in the year,” Crews said. “What could happen is they will hold in an area, but won’t go back to where they were two weeks ago when it was so cold here.”

Guntersville’s surface-water temperatures have risen since Friday’s first practice day. Crews said it was 42 degrees then, but was 46 degrees Sunday, and Thursday’s report was that it had climbed into the 50s.

Four-time Classic champ Kevin VanDam said he is going to key on finding the paths the bass will take from deep water into spawning staging areas.

“The water has been so cold for so long, and it’s changing so fast right now that you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “My problem is that I’m boat number 36 and by the time I get to the spot I want to fish, there might be six boats there.”

For Chris Lane, the winner of the last Classic held in Louisiana — 2012 on the Red River near Shreveport — it’s a coming home of sorts. He moved to the Lake Guntersville community from Florida four years ago. His adopted home has taken him to heart. His posters line the streets of the lakeside town, and he’s featured in brochures at the local tourist center.

“This is a wonderful town and a great lake to fish,” Lane said. “There are a lot of big fish here, and we could see a new Classic record catch. We have to see if somebody has the right stuff to pull that off. There are a lot of great fishermen here and the competition will be as fierce as any Classic I’ve ever fished.”

VanDam holds the Classic catch record of 69 pounds, 11 ounces he caught in 2011 in New Orleans.