Decision time

NEW ORLEANS -- With a bright light shining in his face, Cliff Pace leaned up in his chair, a little annoyed with the line of questioning.


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He was doing an interview for the Bassmaster television show and they were asking him if he knew right where he'd be going when the tournament starts. It was the last of a few similar questions, and his answer was always the same -- "I don't know."

"There's a lot more going on here than a warming trend," said Pace, who has fished more than 300 tournaments on the Louisiana Delta. "There's the fog, spectator boats, local pressure, and a lot more. There's also a south wind, which makes the water rise. It's possible the water that wins the Classic will be unreachable until the tournament starts.

"When I takeoff Friday morning, I'll know where I am going down to a 10-yard stretch. But I won't know which 10-yard stretch that will be until I get to the ramp."

Pace is just one of 50 anglers who will have to make that all-important decision as the Bassmaster Classic starts Friday morning at 8 a.m. ET on the Louisiana Delta. The angler who chooses right will be one step closer to the most coveted prize in bass fishing and $500,000. The angler who chooses wrong could see his Classic hopes fade away in less than half a day, ending his shot at what's known as the Super Bowl of bass fishing.

With the real possibility of fog delays, changing tides and an estimated 3,700 square miles of fishable water, that decision isn't easy.

"I've fished professionally for 12 years and won a Classic on this water, but when I pull out on it, it's still intimidating," said Mike Iaconelli. "I still get a feeling dread in my stomach, wondering how I am going to find that needle in the haystack. There are just so many things in play."

Defending Classic champion and 2010 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam said he's not nervous about deciding where to go, but he does feel the weight it carries.

"I just want to get past the first day," VanDam said. "When I make the decision on where to go on Day One, I'm going to live or die by it. If I can just get past Friday, I'll feel a lot better about things."

The anglers' different reactions to all the variables give this Classic a confusing feel. VanDam said it will take multiple areas to win. Iaconelli said he's found the one magic spot like he did when he won here in 2003. Gerald Swindle said the winner will need to fish something different every day. Pace said the winner will have a set plan for every variable that may or may not come into play. Kelly Jordon has decided, come fog or high water, he's making the two-hour run south to Venice.

The only thing the Classic anglers agree on is that there will be no adjusting midday. With such a vast area to fish, it takes too long to run from one place to another. When they make a decision, they are pretty much stuck with it.

We won't know what the anglers have truly decided until Friday morning when all the talk and speculation will take a back seat to action (which you can follow live, all day on Bassmaster.com). And it will be Sunday night when someone is raising the Classic trophy through a shower of confetti before we know who made the right choice.

"Right now, there are a lot of decisions to be made, but we won't know which ones were key and which ones didn't matter until this event is over," Pace told the cameras, ending his rant. "This is what we've been fishing for all year -- to be one of these 50 anglers at this event. But it's still just fishing, and I think if you make it more than that, you're making a mistake."