Pounding the 'Magical Trees'

ANDERSON, S.C. — The public address system on the takeoff dock on Lake Hartwell this morning was playing Big & Rich's "Everybody's Trying to Get Filthy Rich Off of Someone Else's Money" as Boyd Duckett — who at last year's Bassmaster Classic did just that — showed his new signature rods to tournament director Trip Weldon.

Like everyone else with a lick of sense, Weldon was bundled against the 32-degrees-and-gusty morning as though he were headed out to shovel snow. In his coat and gaiter, he walked to the edge of the dock and made a couple of casts with the medium-heavy rod. "Real nice," he said.

"Isn't that something?" said Duckett, who pocketed $500,000 by winning last year's Classic. "Let me show you one of the big ones, if you ain't in a big hurry."

For all the cash and career-affirming prestige that comes with winning the thing, it was funny to see Duckett so relaxed on the final day of practice before the Classic begins Friday. He and other anglers seemed intent on checking their water — and maybe finding a few deep fish — but little else, as though there weren't much point in cramming this soon before the final exam.

"I'm just going to new water today," angler Todd Faircloth said as he organized tackle in his boat. "If I don't catch fish today, I know where I'm going to catch fish in the tournament. You're just trying to get a general idea of where you're going to spend your time today. The water temperature's basically going to stay where it's at. I don't think the fish are going to change much."

That prediction is in spite of a Friday forecast calling for rain and temperatures only slightly above freezing. Brent Chapman, for one, said he thought tonight's full moon will help draw deep fish shallow, if not to the banks. Others thought the weather could hold the fish deep.

"Thirty-seven and raining? That's about as cold as it gets," Duckett said of Friday's forecast. "One thing you don't want to fish is cold, muddy water. If there is a shallow bite, and I have a shallow bite — you don't know how well it'll hold up if it rains. I don't know if it'll hold up. So I want to find some more deep fish."

Anglers Gerald Swindle and Timmy Horton concurred that there wasn't much else to do on the final practice day but look for deep fish. Swindle said he planned to dropshot the tops of submerged timber in search of "that blowout pattern" that could locate a school of fish.

"I'm going to fish very little of the stuff I plan to fish in the tournament," Swindle said.

Asked whether that meant he was confident in what he had already found, Swindle replied, "No, not at all. It just means I don't want to do any more of it."

Across the dock, Horton chimed in: "I'm either going to get it out of my system today, or I'm going to find me one of them magical trees."

"There better not be one loon diving, 'cause if he is, he's going to have a buck-tail jig rared up his back," Swindle responded. "'Cause I'm fixin' to throw at every bird diving at a shad on this lake, see if I can't find a school of bass."

Jeff Kriet said he was going to fish new water, to avoid pushing the fish he found in practice too hard, and intended to try some patterns he found in fishing Lake Lanier while Hartwell has been off-limits. His goal Wednesday is to try to find fish he could catch for a quick limit.

Before launch, Weldon reminded anglers several times that a wind advisory was in effect on Hartwell, with 15 to 25 mph winds — and gusts above that.

"Be careful, fellas," he announced. "It's gonna get choppy." For birds, most of all.

Bassmaster.com will provide unprecedented live video coverage of the Classic this week, Feb. 22-24. We'll have live "Hooked Up," daily launches at 7:15 a.m. ET and live weigh-ins and real-time leaderboards starting at 4:30 p.m. ET broadcast live from the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C.