CELEBRATION, Fla. When the 37th annual Bassmaster Classic unfolds on Lay Lake Feb. 23-25, it will be familiar waters for some of the highly accomplished tournament field.
In fact, 18 of the 50 Classic contenders for 2007 fished the world championship event when it was staged on Lay in either 1996 or 2002. So they will certainly know their way around the lake strategically and navigation-wise.
But it will be a different Lay Lake than the one they experienced during those two previous Classics. That's because the upcoming Classic will be only the second time bass fishing's most major event has been held in the late winter/early spring months.
"I think it could be a real good tournament, but it will be a lot different than it was in those summertime Classics," said Russ Lane of Prattville, Ala., whose experience and tournament success on Lay Lake makes him one of the pre-Classic favorites. "It really depends on the weather, but either the spotted bass or the largemouth should be biting."
Lay Lake is an impoundment of the Coosa River located about 40 miles from Birmingham. With more than 250 miles of shoreline and 12,000 acres, Lay is home to a sizeable population of both largemouth and spotted bass. The reservoir was impounded in 1914 and is 48 miles in length.
This edition of the premier event will mark the sixth time the Classic has been staged in Birmingham, Ala., and the 10th time it has been held in the state of Alabama.
Gerald Swindle, the 2004 Bassmaster Angler of the Year, was excited when he first found out that Classic XXXVII would be coming to Lay Lake.
"I think it could be a fabulous tournament, especially for big spotted bass," the Hayden, Ala., pro said. "The thing that makes those Coosa River lakes good is no matter how cold it gets, they bite.
"The guys won't be able to get on the Classic stage and blame the cold for not being able to catch them. When it gets cold here, they still bite. The fishing could just be wide open."
Fellow Alabama pro and Classic contender Tim Horton agrees, "Lay Lake is going to be a good site for the Classic. You can catch fish a variety of different ways. It's going to be exciting."
In this Classic, the contenders will have to make an initial strategic decision of whether to target the heavier largemouth or the more plentiful spotted bass. Lane believes an angler will need to catch a combination of species to make a run at the most important title in competitive fishing and the $500,000 grand prize.
"I would say the angler that wins probably is going to have 80 percent spots in their bag," Lane said. "If a guy could catch 17 pounds a day of spots and then go catch a keeper largemouth, they're going to be hard to beat."
The consensus among the eight Alabama anglers in the Classic field is that the spotted bass are most likely to be caught on large spinnerbaits, heavy jigs and finesse-type soft-plastics in fairly deep water, while flipping-type plastics will produce largemouth in shallower conditions.
The fishery went off-limits to Classic qualifiers on Dec. 1 and will not re-open until the official pre-fish days Feb. 13, 14 and 15. Lay Lake will then be off-limits until the official practice day for the Classic on Feb. 21.
The exciting Bassmaster Classic weigh-in show and the ESPN Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Under Armour will take place in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center.
The 2007 Bassmaster Classic will be hosted by the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau. The tournament will receive 11 1/2 hours of television coverage on ESPN2.
Sponsors of the event include Toyota Tundra, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Purolator, Berkley, Advance Auto Parts, Lowrance Electronics and MotorGuide.
BASS is the worldwide authority on bass fishing, sanctioning more than 20,000 events through the BASS Federation Nation annually. Guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans, BASS sets the standard for credibility, professionalism, sportsmanship and conservation, as it has for nearly 40 years.
BASS stages bass fishing tournaments for every skill level and culminates with the Bassmaster Classic. Through its clubs, youth programs, aquatic resource advocacy, magazine publishing and multimedia platforms, BASS offers the industry's widest array of services and support to its nearly 530,000 members. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208 or visit www.bassmaster.com/classic