On the eve of the 2009 Bassmaster Classic official practice period, anglers did little to dispel the notion that the Red River in the northwestern corner of Louisiana would continue in a notable line of weigh-ins marked by heavy bags of bass.
Since the world championship of bass fishing moved from the summer swelter to February's often spectacular propensity for pre-spawn patterns, battles bordering on slugfests have been very much the rule.
Even as scouting strategies proved as varied as the spectacularly hued boat wraps to be unveiled this week, the consensus swung distinctly in the direction that it would take upward of 18-20 pounds per day to have a shot at the sport's biggest crown.
"Just talking with some guys around here, I'd say it'll take 17 or 18 pounds a day on the low end and 20 to 21 a day on the high end to be in it at the end," said Skeet Reese as he relaxed at a local marina. "We've got the best possible weather and water conditions possible as it stands right now.
"That doesn't mean it won't change between now and then, but it's setting up great. It should be a full-on prespawn bite."
Reese eschewed the notion of checking out the water by riding around the river system.
"Flying might be something you could do to help. I know (Rick) Clunn is flying today. But it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me to spend $50 in gas riding around in a truck to see water I'm going to see tomorrow anyway. Driving over a bridge is not going to really give you an idea of what the water is like."
A stable river level and the recent period of mild temperatures mid-afternoon temperatures were in the low- to mid-60s Thursday eased the minds of anglers as they relaxed, rode and rummaged through tackle in prep for the final extended tune-up for this year's Classic.
The extended forecast for the three practice days, which start Friday, shows a few mornings of chilly weather brought on by relatively weak cold fronts, but little rain is expected, a factor which should keep the Red River and its myriad oxbows and backwaters nice and clean. Clean, of course, being a relative term.
"I'd call it real fishable dirty water," said defending Bassmaster Classic champion Alton Jones as he fiddled with his tackle, having known the areas he will target based on what he saw before the mid-December off limits. "This place never really gets really clear. I'd say it's around six or eight inches of visibility. There hasn't been anything like in years past when it was a big mudhole. That causes the river to fish really small. It's shaping up to fish really big this year."
Jones said the wide-open scenario puts the onus on anglers to figure out over the weekend what it'll take to put themselves in a position to do some damage in the Feb. 20-22 Classic.
"There's a lot of work to be done on the part of the anglers in figuring out what it'll take to find the right kind of fish," Jones said. "The fish have a lot of options and there are a lot of good solid fish out there. It's always a difficult thing to do pulling yourself off of good fish to make sure you're not missing something. Every second of practice is crucial."
Jones also said anglers who were nimble enough to sense the fish's movements and follow through on those readings are the ones who'll make waves, granted that they're on the right kind of fish. The anglers have one final day of practice Wednesday.
"These fish will be moving every single day. That's why the final day of practice is so important, to get a handle on how things have changed in those two days you're off the water," said Jones, who says the fish will likely be in a mix of a late winter and pre-spawn pattern.
"One other thing is that we'll be coming up on the dark end of the moon, which should make for less feeding by the fish at night," Jones said. "We should have a pretty good early morning bite, especially if the weather stays mild."
The Red River's near optimal conditions also gives anglers schooled in all different types of fishing an opportunity to compete for the $500,000 first prize.
"This is going to give guys the best chance to do what they want to do. The place is going to fish very big. I think they'll be plenty of fish caught in the main river," said Brett Chapman, who won an event on the Red River in 2000.
Chapman says a kicker fish should be in the 6-pound range, though he's heard enough to think that there'll be a number of fish in the 8-, 9- and even 10-pound range.
"I still say that I'd take 18 pounds a day and never leave the dock. But things are really shaping up nicely looking at the long-range forecast. I think we'll hit it pretty good."
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