Last month’s Bassmaster Classic marked my 10th Classic, most of which I’ve attended as a working journalist, and just like the previous nine world championships, I once again learned a few things and had some other ideas reinforced while watching the world’s best bass fishermen match wits with little green fish.
Here’s a quick overview of the top 10 things I learned at the 42nd Bassmaster Classic on the Red River.
1. Kevin VanDam is human: Sometimes, it’s hard to believe the world’s best bass angler isn’t a machine. He has won four Classic titles, including consecutive crowns in 2010 and 2011, and seven Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year awards. Folks used to call him “the Tiger Woods of bass fishing,” but after Woods’ recent struggles on and off the links, VanDam might consider that an insult. Van Dam has dominated bass fishing like no one before him (sorry, old-school Rick Clunn fans, but that’s the way I see it). But even the world’s best bass fishermen can’t win them all.
2. Babies make you fish better: There’s a belief among many Bassmaster Elite Series anglers and fans that having a new baby prior to a big tournament is a sure-fire way to improve performance. This is in large part the result of past success by anglers such as Dave Wolak and Fred Roumbanis, both of whom won big-money events shortly after their wives delivered children.
Alabama pro Greg Vinson came very close to making believers out of even more fishing fans. Vinson’s wife delivered the couple’s first child less than three weeks prior to the Classic, so it surprised few die-hard fans when Vinson made a strong run at the title. Vinson wound up in second place to champion Chris Lane, but he came close enough to make some of us think this connection between babies and bass fishing is more than a superstition.
3. Bass will spawn earlier than usual this year: Less than two weeks ago, largemouth bass were heading for their spawning areas during the Classic. And while I realize Southeast Arkansas is slightly farther north than northwest Louisiana, the bass will be spawning here sooner than you and I think. A mild winter and some unseasonably warm weather over the past few weeks means it’s time to get busy catching fish. If you’re reading this and haven’t planned a trip to pick off fish in transition from the prespawn to the spawn – and possibly even to catch some early spawners on this month’s full moon, which was Thursday – you better start thinking about it now or you’re going to miss some fantastic fishing action.
4. The Red River is an obstacle course: If you’re trying to get to a bass in the Red River, you’ll have to clear more than a few hurdles. From the locks and dams that make commercial navigation possible to the stumpy backwaters that harbor healthy bass populations, numerous obstacles stood between Classic anglers and the winning fish. Going through locks and idling through stump fields mean you’re not fishing, and time management is everything to tournament anglers. You can’t get anywhere fast in a Red River backwater, so you better wisely choose your fishing spot.
5. Louisiana fishing fans love the Classic People in Louisiana love their fishing, even when they’re not actively fishing themselves. The support of the folks in the Shreveport-Bossier City area was phenomenal. More than 1,000 people showed up for early-morning take-offs each day, and the CenturyLink Center, site of each day’s weigh-in, was packed with thousands more fans each afternoon. People were lined up outside the arena long before the doors opened, and the fans that followed the action on the water were a respectful bunch, not interfering with the anglers as they attempted to win the biggest tournament in the sport. Tulsa has a touch act to follow at next year’s Classic on Grand Lake.
6. Mike Iaconelli is a marketing genius but a shameless promoter: Iaconelli became a sensation in the bass fishing world – and beyond – after winning the 2003 Bassmaster Classic. A brash and bold young angler from New Jersey, he turned heads by breakdancing on the weigh-in stage while staking a claim as a fierce competitor and legitimate contender. Soon, the bass world knew Ike’s name, and when magazines like GQ, which put him on a list of the country’s most hated athletes a few years later, and other non-fishing press started to publish Iaconelli stories with alarming regularity, he transcended bass fishing and became one of the few anglers known outside of bass fishing circles.
7. Fishing in a crowd isn’t for the faint of heart: With a high and muddy Red River in play, every Classic angler headed for the backwaters, which made for some crowded fishing conditions. And when I say crowded, I don’t mean there were two or three guys fishing in a big area. I watched Todd Faircloth and Keith Combs fish within yards of each other on the second day. And less than 100 yards from that pair, Edwin Evers fished the very back of the same small pocket of water.
It wasn’t a rare scenario. Throughout the two pools of the Red River where most of the field fished, anglers fished within talking distance of other pros. Watching other guys catch fish while you’re struggling to find bites will mess with your psyche. For example, I saw Faircloth yank a nice bass into the boat while Combs was passing within 10 yards of Faircloth’s boat. Combs later told me it was “painful to watch.”
8. Momentum shouldn’t be taken lightly: People talk a lot about momentum in tournament fishing, and as much as I want to call it rubbish, it’s hard to argue that there’s not something to the importance of momentum.
Anglers often go on hot streaks and win or place highly in several tournaments in a row. This year’s Classic was a case in point. After struggling for the past few years, Alabama pro Chris Lane started 2012 with a January victory in a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open event in Florida. Lane’s next entry resulted in his Classic victory, a $500,000 payday and inestimable rewards in the form of sponsorships and endorsements. I’m not betting against him during this year’s Elite Series.
9. Bassmaster.com covers the Classic like stink on fish guts: In the interest of full disclosure, I worked on the Bassmaster.com team at this year’s Classic. But if you watched any of the website’s coverage of the Classic, you should agree that my opinion isn’t the result of bias. There isn’t another sport that has better web-based coverage. From on-the-water photos to on-the-water live blogs, from BASSCam videos to behind-the-scenes coverage of the web team’s “War Room,” the coverage allowed fans at home to see nearly everything of consequence that happened at the 42nd Classic. One of my friends had planned to attend the event in Shreveport but was forced to cancel at the last minute. But as he told me after the event, “I don’t think I would’ve seen near as much in person as I did from my couch.”
10. There’s nothing like the Bassmaster Classic Every time I attend the Classic, I’m reminded how special it is for any fan of pro bass fishing. Truly, there’s nothing like it. The energy in the arena for the final weigh-in always makes the hair on my arms and neck stand at attention.