ANDERSON, S.C. — The head, Ish Monroe said this morning, is the most important body part an angler must keep warm and dry. Second behind that is the torso, specifically the lower torso, because if that's wet, he'll think of nothing else.
A close third is a man's hands. Which is why, as Monroe waited to launch his boat into Lake Hartwell on the first morning of the Bassmaster Classic, clad in boots, two layers of pants, three layers under his Gore-Tex coat, and a hat and two hoods on his head, he was thinking most about his hands.
"It's easy to keep your head dry, and it's easy to keep the rest of your body dry," Monroe said. "But the hands are the toughest part to keep dry and keep from being cold."
To keep his fingers nimble and happy, Monroe was wearing Xtreme fishing gloves he picked up at the Classic Outdoors Expo the day before. They look like dirtbike gloves made of Neoprene, with no tips on the fingers and a breakaway thumb.
He has never fished in gloves like them. But he decided to chance them on a 40-degrees-and-rainy morning in the biggest tournament of the year. The early returns were positive; his hands sweated when he put them in his pockets.
"Especially with me and some of the techniques I'm going to be doing, I need to feel everything," he said. "Some of the bites are so subtle you won't even know they're there."
To a man, anglers interviewed on the dock said they were going to use some form of gloves today. Brent Chapman said he would fish in waterproof golf gloves, and brought extras to ensure he had a dry pair. (Then again, he also packed a full change of clothes, in case he fell in the lake.) Preparing tackle on the deck of his boat, in blue latex surgical gloves and a red raincoat, Boyd Duckett resembled a paramedic. One boat ahead of him was Skeet Reese, wearing purple latex gloves just to keep the wind off his skin.
Other anglers, such as Scott Rook, pulled latex gloves over an Under Armour liner to keep the liner dry. Rook then topped his glove sandwich with ordinary cotton gloves, to keep the latex from sticking to his line.
"You've got to keep your hands warm," Rook said. "These conditions right here are absolutely the worst conditions we can fish in: a below 40-degree rain. I'd rather it be 30 degrees and snowing. Snow is dry. It's not soaking your gloves."
Kevin VanDam — surprise, surprise — was unofficially the most prepared, with four types of layers for his hands, including fleece-lined waterproof gloves for casting and ski gloves to wear while driving.
"Our clothing is so good these days overall, head to toe," he said. "I'm not going to be cold today, and not going to be wet, I guarantee it."
Overall, Timmy Horton said, the cold wouldn't affect his hands, "as long as they keep moving." He stood on the bow of his boat gloveless; his hands were plunged into his coat pockets, where he clutched handwarmers.
But even he said he'd soon swaddle his hands in a pair of gloves.
Said Rook: "I hear some guys say they can't fish in gloves. They're tougher than me."
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.