VENICE, La. — It plain stinks to be stuck out in the middle of the marsh with no one around for miles, but for at least five of the anglers fishing out of the Venice area, beaching the boat was a fact of life on the first day of official practice.
A competition for biggest tearjerker of the day is a tight race between the Federation's David Watson and Edwin Evers. Watson launched at the official ramp in Bayou Segnette before making the long run to familiarize himself with the route to Venice.
"I run aground, popped the cable off my trolling motor and run out of gas, but at least I'm still in one piece," Watson said. "I knew I needed to learn my run, but I didn't know it would take all day. Thank goodness we have another day or two left."
After running out of gas, Tracy Adams saw him and towed his boat the short distance to the Venice marina, where Watson was looking for a few drops of fuel to get his boat on the trailer.
At least Watson made it back to the Venice marina before dark. The story about Evers as relayed by his brother-in-law Terry Butcher had Evers still on the water while the rest of the anglers were inside enjoying a warm bowl of gumbo.
"He's got the Coast Guard coming after him," Butcher said. "He's been stuck for a long time — probably since 1:00. I called him to see if he needed help and he said there wasn't anything I could do. He ran into some deal and just got stuck; there was no water in there. That's pretty easy to do with the water as low as it is."
Butcher himself refused to accept getting stuck as an eventuality. He took precautions on the water to make sure none of his practice time was wasted.
"I don't plan on doing that [getting stuck]," Butcher said. "If I can't idle back into a place, I'm not going to go there. I have three days and I don't want to waste one of them stuck somewhere."
A few other anglers had brief run-ins with a shallow spot on the Delta. Tommy Biffle, for instance, was stuck for an estimated two hours until his roommate Dale Hightower arrived to pull him off. To add insult to injury, he also had to deal with 40 to 50 yards of trot line that got wrapped around his propeller.
Ryan Said paid back his good fortune on Friday. Said got stuck early in the morning and then later in the afternoon he assisted Dave Wolak from his tangle.
"I helped Dave when he was stuck, but I was the one needed rescuing this morning," he said. "I came over a mud bar and ran up on it. A couple big boats went by and jarred me loose and I was able to push pole off."
The tide on the Delta is lower than usual for February, making a shallow fishery even more unpredictable. Wolak's prediction on Thursday that he would get stuck didn't take long to come true.
"It was a sand bar and I kind of knew where it was at," Wolak said. "I swung a little wide and ran right up on it. It wasn't 20 minutes before Ryan got there and, lucky he did, because I wasn't getting off."
The only angler who seemed to do more fishing than pushing was Greg Vinson. The young Alabama pros' first Classic got off to a cold start, but he was able to get a few bites.
Even with a water temperature that started in the low 40s and worked into the 45- to 47-degree range late in the afternoon, a few fish showed themselves in the kind of areas Vinson was looking for.
"It was better than I expected given the conditions," Vinson said. "It will come down to quality in this tournament and that's the one thing I'm concerned about. I have to find some of the key 4- and 5-pounders, but this is the coldest day we will have, so that should help."
The tournament might come down to who finds those bigger bass, but it also might be decided by who spends less time stuck on one of the myriad of shallow obstacles the Delta has will certainly continue to offer.