NEW ORLEANS, La. — On the opposite end of the Delta from Venice, over at Bayou Segnette State Park, anglers were finding more of the same: the water is still cold, the fish are still cold and bites are still hard to come by.
Kevin VanDam, winner of the 2001 Classic on the Delta, didn't come down to pre-fish before the off-limits and has had the trolling motor on high since his practice began Friday. The marshy waters have changed quite a bit since the last time he was here and the condition of the fishery has him concerned.
"I'm disappointed with the shape the Delta is in," VanDam said. "There's not as much grass as I expected and I'm sure the cold winter didn't help. It warms up fast here though; that is the best thing we have going for us."
With a sunny, warmer day Saturday, the water temperatures did rise considerably, but even in the high 40s, that isn't conducive to getting many bites.
"Two or three places had ice on the shore yesterday morning," VanDam said. "That's not good for fishing. With the water 43 to 45 degrees, that is as cold as it gets here. For this time of year, there are not a lot of places the fish want to be."
VanDam made an interesting comparison to past spring Classics that has set the tempo for his practice period. Just like the Classic he won last year on Lay Lake, finding the right spot will be key.
"That's been the case for almost all the spring Classics we've had," VanDam said. "It will be tough for the majority of the field and only a few guys will find that right spot. I've got one more day to find that something up here."
Anglers won't despair if they can't find the magic spot this weekend. The Classic competitors will return to the Delta waters on Wednesday for a final abbreviated day of practice, which might turn out to be the most important practice day of all.
Scott Rook noticed the water temperature had increased to more than 50 degrees in some spots by the afternoon, a sign that warmer nights to come and sunny days will help boost it even higher.
"That shallow, stained water will heat up quickly, so you need to be open-minded," Rook said. "I was hoping it would be warm when I got down here, but it was 27 degrees out when I put in. It's pretty easy to identify good areas, those with clear, warmer water, but these fish are like Florida bass; they don't bite when it's cold."
Federation Nation angler Brian LaClair, who made the long journey from Denton, Md., was frustrated by how tight-lipped the bass have been on the Delta the past two days.
"I saw some 53-degree water today and that should be plenty warm enough," LaClaire said. "These southern fish are sissy fish. They don't like the cold. Back home I was catching fish in 30 feet of water on a crankbait with my boat pushing up against ice because that was all I had to practice on."
LaClair caught only two fish on Saturday, but that was an improvement from the day prior, when he went fishless. He plans to spend his third practice day covering some different water, hoping like VanDam to find something outstanding.
That something "outstanding" can probably be found in Venice or closer to the launch somewhere like Des Allemands or Lake Catouatchie. The problem will be committing to an area even if bites were hard to come by in practice. That's the challenge Jason Williamson has been facing.
"The cold water makes fishing tough and it's hard to commit to an area," Williamson said. "This is a Classic where that is a must. You can't run all over the place. By the time Wednesday rolls around if you go to an area and don't get bites, you have to start thinking about eliminating it. That's not the case now."
In the end, like their counterparts in Venice, the anglers launching from Bayou Segnette were full of optimism.
"I hope it warms up so New Orleans can show its true colors," Williamson said. "The bites I have gotten have been quality bites, they have just been few and far between. If you can get bit now, it should only get better as the week progresses."